Jim Harris: ESPN Analyst Fraschilla Would Give Pelphrey More Time

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Jan. 4, 2010 5:04 pm  

This story is from the archives of ArkansasSports360.com.

Place former coach and current ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla among the many experts in the business who would advise the University of Arkansas fans to stay behind their coach, John Pelphrey, while he rebuilds the program.

Fraschilla, who coached at St. John's and New Mexico and spent 23 years in the coaching profession before turning to broadcasting, addressed the Downtown Tip Off Club Monday at North Little Rock's Wyndham Riverfront.

Fraschilla found himself in a rebuilding situation at St. John's, one coach removed to following St. John's legend Lou Carnesseca. After three years in his native New York, Fraschilla headed west for a rebuilding project at New Mexico.

He joked at the club luncheon that, being Italian and relocating to New Mexico, his mother wondered if he was in the government's Witness Protection program. After compiling a 130-100 record before turning to the TV microphone, Fraschilla knows something about dealing with college administrations who want to win immediately and with what it takes to re-energize a program and its fan base. Now living in Dallas, he says he's glad these days to be watching from the broadcast table while his coaching friends sweat out the battles, and all he has to wonder is "if the local Outback [Steakhouse] stays open past 10."

After the luncheon, Fraschilla was quizzed about the Arkansas job and Pelphrey's future. Pelphrey inherited a mostly senior group from the fired Stan Heath when he arrived in 2007 and had to completely rebuild the roster last season. However, only one player of the six he signed for the 2008 is currently playing (four players are gone and one, Courtney Fortson, remains on indefinite suspension). Following up a 14-16 year in which they won just two Southeastern Conference games, the Hogs are 7-7 with SEC play starting Thursday at Mississippi State. With transfers and off-season problems that led to five player suspensions, then a spate of injuries that included three returning starters being sidelined at various times, attendance has been paltry and the on-court results have been disappointing. Arkansas has lost four nonconference games on its home court this season and five in-state.

"Any young coach who's building a program like [Pelphrey's] trying to do is going to have some bumps in the road," Fraschilla said. "They've had a few more bumps that they expected. But how you handle adversity, really, is most important. And what I can see from the outside, [Pelphrey is] doing that.

"Nobody wants to go through the things they went through during the summer. They had high expectations; they have some good young players. But this is why you're charged with leading a college basketball or football program, to handle adversity. From what I can tell he's doing a good job with that."

While he noted Arkansas' reputation - the Hogs made three Final Fours and won a national championship in the 1990s - Fraschilla says that other places, such as tradition-rich Kentucky, may be more suited for a quick turnaround. After two disappointing seasons under previous coach Billy Gillispie, Kentucky fans are re-energized with the program's best start since 1969-70 after hiring John Calipari, who brought along freshmen stars John Wall and Demarco Cousins. Those players were expected to join Calipari at Memphis until Kentucky opened its bank vault for the coach.

"John [Pelphrey], or if I were coaching, or any coaches who don't have Calipari's status, don't have that kind of farm system where they can bring three or four recruits with them - it doesn't work that way in most cases. Rebuilding in this league is not easy. And obviously they want to be a little further along but they've had to deal with problems that don't normally come up in the rebuilding process."

Fraschilla, who figured the SEC to be stronger than it was last season, says the league has not met his and others expectations through December. Based on that, he says that even with its mediocre non-conference mark - unbeaten and No. 2-ranked Texas will finish up the Hogs' non-league slate on Tuesday in Fayetteville - Arkansas has enough good young players that the Razorbacks could still have some success and build some momentum toward the end of the season.

Fraschilla told the club that the SEC appears Kentucky's to lose this season, while Ole Miss and Mississippi State look like good teams. Tennessee could contend but has its off-court problems from last weekend, and Florida is surprisingly still struggling for the third year after winning consecutive NCAA championships.

He said that while Billy Donavan is a good coach, "he's a good example of peacock today, feather duster tomorrow." Donovan has had 12 players transfer in recent years, and he lost Nick Calathes to professional ball in Greece during the off-season. This year's edition of Gators is "iffy" to make the NCAA Tournament, Fraschilla said.

 

 

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