Eddie Sutton's 'special bond' with Arkansas, Oklahoma State basketball gets spotlight in SEC/Big 12 Challenge
STILLWATER — Scott Sutton remembers sitting at the front of the team bench next to his father.
He doesn’t remember what year it was exactly, only that it was likely the late 1970s.
His brothers did not make the trip with the Arkansas men’s basketball team to Houston. Somehow, Scott won the prime seat never reserved for a Sutton boy.
Right next to Eddie Sutton.
“Normally we sat at the end of the bench down there with the managers,” Scott said. “For some reason, he wanted me up there by him.
“It’s just something I’ll always remember.”
The fact that Arkansas rallied from a huge deficit — Scott remembers it being 19 or 20 points at halftime — for the inside Hofheinz Pavilion is just a snippet of the replay in his mind.
That’s how big Eddie Sutton was to his youngest son.
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A larger-than-life figure on and off the basketball court, Eddie made Scott’s early life growing up in Arkansas special.
“He was an unbelievable dad,” Scott said.
Now an assistant coach at Oklahoma State, Scott will get a chance to honor his father’s legacy when two of Eddie’s most cherished universities meet. The Cowboys host Arkansas at 3 p.m. Saturday inside Gallagher-Iba Arena as part of the annual Big 12/SEC Challenge.
The Cowboys and Razorbacks fittingly meet the year after Eddie was finally elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, which preceded his death in May. Saturday will be a day of tributes to Eddie’s legacy, with each team wearing commemorative shooting shirts and more.
“He had such a special bond and relationship with the programs but also the fan bases of both schools,” Scott said. “He loved Razorback fans and obviously he loved Cowboy fans.
“They were similar as far as programs. He was able to take two programs that hadn’t had a ton of success and do something that some people didn’t think was possible to do again, and that’s to get those programs to Final Fours and win conference championships.”
Eddie had 806 career victories at Creighton, Arkansas, Kentucky, OSU and San Francisco. But it was Arkansas and OSU where he had the bulk of his success.
With the Cowboys, he led the way to 13 NCAA Tournament appearances and two Final Fours in 16 seasons.
But he really established himself as a premier coach in Fayetteville as a young, tough leader in the late 1970s into the mid-1980s. In 11 seasons, Eddie won five Southwest Conference titles. He made nine NCAA Tournament appearances and one Final Four.
“I think he meant so much to the whole coaching fraternity,” Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said. “Obviously, the success he had, but I think anybody in my age group that was coaching looked up to how hard his teams played, the defensive identity that they always had.”
Few had a better view of Eddie in Arkansas than his sons.
Scott, the youngest of three, spent his formative years in Fayetteville. Scott was 4 when Eddie was hired and 15 when Eddie left for Kentucky.
“Probably looking back, he probably wished he hadn’t left,” Scott said. “I think he was a great fit at Arkansas, just like he was at Oklahoma State.”
Scott rarely missed a practice or game as a child. He looked up to stars like Sidney Moncrief, Ron Brewer, Marvin Delph.
After school, either Scott’s mom, Patsy, or a team manager would be waiting to pick up Scott and Sean. They’d head to Barnhill Arena for practice and afterward some shots of their own.
When Eddie and Patsy were out of town, the managers were often left in charge of the boys.
But Eddie often took his sons on the road until they were busy with their own basketball schedules.
That set Sean and Scott on their own coaching path. But it also led to cherished memories.
“We were able to experience so many wonderful things and he always wanted us to be a part of it,” Scott said. “He wanted us down there, my mom wanted us down there to see how hard my dad actually worked and what he did and how he impacted his players’ lives.
“He was a great dad.”
Jacob Unruh covers college sports for The Oklahoman. You can send your story ideas to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @jacobunruh. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.