OSU basketball: How Eddie Sutton's impact was felt in the NBA
STILLWATER — Tony Allen arrived in Stillwater in 2002 with a wild haircut he looks back on with some shame.
Half was braided. Half was an afro.
Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton was appalled from the moment he saw the hairstyle. It sure didn’t take long for Allen to get a haircut.
“Yo, that’s not getting you to the NBA,” Allen recalled Sutton saying.
Sutton was always making a point in his own way. Allen certainly appreciated that in his two seasons at OSU.
It’s a big reason Allen became a 14-year veteran in the NBA.
“I gotta give all my credit to him,” Allen said. “He straightened me up a whole lot.”
Sutton, 84, died Saturday less than two months after he was announced as a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame induction class. He left a legacy of 806 victories, three Final Four appearances and taking four different programs to the NCAA Tournament.
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But he also had an impact on the NBA.
Throughout his career, Sutton coached 30 players who reached the NBA — with some playing in only a small amount of games and some producing careers of more than 10 years and winning NBA titles.
“I think the main thing with him is that he demanded toughness,” said Joe Kleine, who played for Sutton at Arkansas and had a 15-year NBA career. “To play in the NBA, to be drafted in the NBA, those guys want guys who are tough, who will compete, who will face adversity and fight.
“I think when people started getting his players in the league, the coaches knew that that’s what they were getting. They were getting guys who would fight and compete. You still gotta have all the attributes, though.”
Sutton had nine Arkansas players reach the NBA, with nine from Kentucky and 13 from OSU also playing in the league.
At Arkansas, Sidney Moncrief became a five-time All-Star. Ron Brewer played eight seasons in the league. Alvin Robertson was a dynamic defender.
But Kleine also saw less-heralded guys like Scott Hastings, Darrell Walker and Tony Brown reach the NBA following Sutton’s guidance.
“You go on and on, guys that weren’t to my recollection just highly coveted high school players,” Kleine said. “He found tough dudes that would compete and that would fight.”
Jimmy Dykes, an ESPN analyst who played for Sutton at Arkansas and coached alongside Sutton for many years, noticed Sutton always treated every player the same.
He also demanded players take care of their body, show discipline and play with a certain toughness.
“If you didn't have those qualities, you weren’t going to make it with Coach Sutton,” Dykes said. “If you did have those qualities and you were talented enough, that translated into being a pro and sometimes a really long-term pro.
“I think those qualities that he demanded out of others, they translate up and down the ladder to being a pro and being a great high school player.”
Former OSU star Ivan McFarlin saw that up close.
It was with the Cowboys that Sutton had his greatest success, with stars like Allen, Bryant Reeves, Desmon Mason and Byron Houston reaching the NBA.
McFarlin, who is now Ponca City High School’s head coach, had just a brief NBA stint. He played 11 games for the Philadelphia 76ers. That only came after he played a year overseas.
One weekend his first year after leaving OSU, McFarlin met with Sutton in Stillwater. They talked about life overseas. Sutton encouraged McFarlin to not give up. He had the ability to reach the NBA.
Over the summer, McFarlin shined. He landed with the Sixers.
“Low and behold, I got a shot,” McFarlin said. “Besides your family base, you’ve got to have someone say you’ve got a chance to make it.
“He was that coach that kept pushing and kept saying, ‘You’ve got a chance.’”
Sutton’s NBA tree
A total of 30 players who played for legendary coach Eddie Sutton played in the NBA. Here is a list:
Arkansas: Ron Brewer, Tony Brown, Scott Hastings, Byron Irvin, Joe Kleine, Andrew Lang, Sidney Moncrief, Alvin Robertson, Darrell Walker.
Kentucky: Winston Bennett, Rex Chapman, LeRon Ellis, Reggie Hanson, Rob Lock, Chris Mills, Irving Thomas, Kenny Walker.
Oklahoma State: Tony Allen, Maurice Baker, JamesOn Curry, Joey Graham, Stephen Graham, Byron Houston, John Lucas III, Desmond Mason, Ivan McFarlin, Bryant Reeves, Melvin Sanders, Brooks Thompson, Corey Wiliams.