Pelphrey Understands: Fortson's Return Before Texas Game Was No Accident

Atticus MulkeyContributor IJanuary 12, 2010

RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 23:  Head Coach John Pelphrey of the Arkansas Razorbacks yells from the sideline during the 2nd round of the East Regional game of the 2008 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament against the North Carolina Tar Heels at RBC Center on March 23, 2008 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The Tar Heels defeated the Razorbacks 108-77. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

"Fortson is here! He's going to play!" I yelled into the mouthpiece of my phone as they announced the guard's name in a semi-full Bud Walton Arena. The crowd seemed pretty happy the 5' 11" sophomore was back and the cheering brought about by the announcement was making my phone call almost impossible. As Courtney Fortson swaggered into the court for the first time this season, many people in the arena and around the state breathed a sigh of relief knowing that the Razorbacks had a chance to knock off the second best team in the nation.


Pelphrey, decked out in his red suit coat, a fashion faux pas we Hog fans shamelessly encourage, was coaching like there was no tomorrow. He understands the team has a long way to go and Fortson's suspension is part of the rebuilding process. Perhaps if the season was going better, Fortson's return would have been delayed. But a savvy coach understands when enough is enough.


Courtney is not just the best basketball player on the Arkansas roster, he is the leader of an otherwise ragamuffin team. Without him, the Razorbacks are left searching for an identity and the Texas game would have been hopelessly in favor of the Longhorns. With him, Arkansas managed to lead by 6 points in the first half and make a run that would put them within two points during the final minutes of the game.


Fortson did not take any questions after the Texas game, but issued this statement:


"First off I want to thank my teammates, my fans, the school, the administration for sticking behind me through this rough situation. Most of all I want to thank coach [John] Pelphrey [for] being there outside of basketball, just being in my personal life. Coach [Damon] Jones. Coach [Tom] Ostrum. My mom. You know I owe it to all y'all. Thank y'all for letting me come back, letting me be a part of the Razorbacks."


"That's it. Thank you."


Balancing the disciplinary duties of a head coach, the pressure of fans who only want to win and a losing season (thus far) has been handled perfectly by coach Pel. If it was anyone else standing on the sideline as the coach, they would have been fired by now. But Pelphrey continues to dance around the criticism often associated with the high expectations of being coach here and suddenly fans are talking about a post-season.


Fortson's return has reignited excitement in Razorback fans and the team itself. At the same time, Pelphrey has made his point and hopefully Courtney has learned his lesson. Arkansas may deserve a disciplined basketball team, but we want to beat Texas more. John Pelphrey understands that.