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Five men who say 'Eddie Sutton changed my life'
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Five men who say 'Eddie Sutton changed my life'

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JOE KLEINE, Arkansas-Little Rock assistant coach, former Arkansas and NBA player

In 1984, Joe Kleine helped the United States win a gold medal in basketball. Then he returned to finish his college career at Arkansas and discovered that Eddie Sutton doesn't allow anyone - even Olympic medalists - to cut corners in practice.

"I didn't take a charge," Kleine said. "A guy comes barreling down the lane and I bailed."

Sutton stopped practice and told Kleine to stand on one side of the lane. Sutton told every other player to line up. Sutton threw players the ball, and, one-by-one, they took turns plowing into Kleine.

Then Sutton moved everyone to the other side of the lane and Kleine got another dose.

"I took about 30 charges in five minutes," Kleine said. "After that, if I walked to the business building and somebody bumped into me, I went down."

Kleine immediately got the point - we're proud of you, but it's time to get back to work - that Sutton was trying to make.

Kleine said his life was changed by Sutton's tough love.

"I was a hard worker, but he made me want to work harder and just held me accountable. After I had some success, it seemed like he pushed me harder. But he was always very fair and was always very approachable. He was hard, but not to the point where you were afraid to talk to him or come to him. He wasn't intimidating to me, but I knew he meant business. You could tell he wanted the best for you."

Players who suited up for Sutton had to play to their strengths and play for the team and go hard. Kleine said those things were non-negotiable.

"When I got to Arkansas as a redshirt, he had a very senior-laden team with Scott Hastings and those guys," Kleine said. "It was a very successful group of guys who were very established. He stayed on them hard. You could tell right away that, hey, I'm a redshirt freshman and Scott Hastings is a three-time All-Southwest Conference guy and coach is riding him, so I knew I better fall in line."

Kleine said some players coached by Sutton were probably hearing the voice of a male authority figure for the first time. Kleine said he was fortunate to come from a loving, Christian home with good parents (dad was an ex-Marine). But Kleine indicated that lessons learned from Sutton reinforced lessons that had been learned at home.


Former Oklahoma State and NBA player

College basketball coaches from all over the country descended upon Waxahachie, Texas, to court blue-chip prospect Desmond Mason.

Many recruiting pitches sounded the same. Eddie Sutton's stood out because he promised nothing.

Mason took an official visit to OSU, in part because he was intrigued by Bryant "Big Country" Reeves and the way the Cowboys played during a 1995 trip to the Final Four.

Mason took a seat in Sutton's office. Sutton asked Mason if he wanted to play in the NBA and Mason answered "absolutely."

Recalled Mason, "And Coach said, 'well, if you can listen and you can work and you play hard, I can put you in the NBA. If you can't do any of those things, then you probably won't play in the NBA.' "

Recruiters from other schools promised Mason he would start as a freshman. Sutton told Mason OSU had great players on campus who had been to a Final Four and the coach told Mason he would have to earn everything he got.

That's what Mason and his family wanted to hear. And Mason rose to the challenge, forging one of the best college careers an OSU player ever had en route to 10 years in the NBA.

Tough love started immediately. During the preseason of Mason's freshman year, he said he got into a physical confrontation with teammate Chianti Roberts.

"Coach Sutton jumped all over me," Mason said. "Chianti started it, in my eyes, and Coach jumped on me and told me 'Chianti has done something (in his college career). You haven't done anything.' "

Sutton threatened to run Mason back to Waxahachie.

"That set the tone for how he was going to treat me," Mason said. "Jason Skaer started before me. I felt like I could have started. Then Jason got hurt and I had the opportunity to start. But Coach challenged me and I got disciplined just as much as the next guy."

Mason credited his parents and his coaches, from high school to the NBA, as big influences in his life. Mason suggested he was ripe to be influenced while in college and said he was fortunate to have a role model like Sutton.

"He was really big and instrumental in me not just going to the NBA, but becoming the person I have become and trying to stay loyal and respectful to Oklahoma State University and keeping myself on the right path and being a good example and a good ambassador," Mason said.

"That all comes from your experience in college. If you have a bad experience, then you will probably never go back and be involved in the school. But if you have a great experience, you want to be an ambassador for the university and I had a wonderful experience all the way around."

TONY ALLEN, Memphis Grizzlies guard, former Oklahoma State player

Tony Allen said he got pushed to the limit by Eddie Sutton every day. Looking back, Allen wouldn't want it any other way.

"Some of the days when I thought I was at my best, it was the worst to him," Allen said.

"Even if I was doing good, he was not going to tell me. He would rather an assistant coach tell me."

Sutton was brutally honest, according to Allen, who said, "He kept it raw and uncut with me and I love him for that."

Allen also got to see the other side of his coach. Sutton was kind to Allen's mother and the coach picked spots to show players he cared about them.

"One thing that used to get me through the day sometimes was he always told me to give him a hug," Allen said.

"He would say 'I need a hug. My day is not going to go right unless Mr. Allen is going to give me a hug.'

"And this would be after a practice where he was just yelling at me for the whole two hours and a half and then he would tell me to give him a hug. Some of those times I didn't want to give him a hug, but I would hug him with all the love that I had to give him because I appreciated the opportunity that he gave me."

Allen played at two junior colleges before signing with OSU. He favored the Cowboys because he said assistant coach Glynn Cyprien seemed to be at every big game. When it came time to make a recruiting visit, Allen was nervous and eager to meet "the big dog, the big daddy, Eddie Sutton."

Said Allen, "What I remember is he always had that frown on his face. I always thought that he would be kind of tough on me in practice. As it turned out, he was."

Sutton laid the groundwork for their relationship in that initial meeting. The coach said he was interested in hard-nosed, coachable players who worked hard and wanted to win.

At the end of the meeting, Allen asked if he would get to play if he signed with the Cowboys. And Sutton said something along the lines of "if you were listening to anything I said, that's how you can earn playing time."

Said Allen, "I was like, wow. I just finished up a great junior college season. And he's not even guaranteeing me that I'm going to play. He's just saying if you come here and work hard and put the countless hours in the gym, he doesn't see any reason why I couldn't get on the court."

Allen accepted the offer to be coached hard, helped the Cowboys to a Final Four as a senior and has been cashing NBA checks since.

"He drove me the same way in my academics," Allen said. "He made sure I was at study hall and if I missed study hall, I had to run. He held me accountable for everything and I liked that in him. I still use that same discipline in my life now, just being a hard-nosed guy, being a blue-collar hard worker and understanding that life isn't given to you. It's what you make of it. He definitely instilled that in me."


Longtime NBA coach and former Arkansas player

Eddie Sutton wasn't the only person in the Sutton family who changed Darrell Walker's life. The coach's wife, Patsy, also played an important role.

"When Coach and I were bumping heads, she was the mediator and kept everything on a level playing field and stopped Coach many times, I am sure, from sending me home to Chicago," Walker said.

Walker said one of the best decisions he ever made was to go to Arkansas instead of going to North Carolina or staying home to attend DePaul. Sutton became a father figure. And Walker was sort of the rebellious son who wasn't accustomed to discipline.

One day Sutton summoned Walker to the basketball office and issued an ultimatum.

Said Walker, "He said 'look, you are one of the most talented players I have ever coached. If you don't start going to class and doing the things I am telling you to do, you are going to be back in Chicago, in the southside project ghettos. And I'm going to tell all the NBA owners and scouts that call me - they are going to call me, not you - and I am going to tell them that you are not doing the right things'."

Walker, none too happy about Sutton's words, knew he had come to a fork in the road.

"I had to decide if I wanted to stay at the University of Arkansas and maybe go to the NBA or go back to the southside projects in Chicago, where all my friends were dead or in jail or using drugs," he said. "I made the decision to really follow the path that Coach Sutton had laid out for me."

Walker said he might have fallen in with the wrong crowd if he had gone back to Chicago. Instead, he stayed at Arkansas, embraced a team-first style of basketball preferred by Sutton and became an All-American.

In 2008, Walker was selected for Arkansas' Hall of Honor. Sutton was there to congratulate him. A longtime NBA coach, Walker said Sutton brings Patsy and other family members to games every time one of Walker's teams plays in Oklahoma City.

In 2012, Walker expects to complete work on a college degree. He wants to try his hand at college coaching. When Walker gets his diploma, he knows Sutton will be there.

"He always said he is as proud of me as any player he has ever coached," Walker said. "And he has coached a ton of players."


Former Central High School and College of Southern Idaho player

While growing up in Tulsa, Steve Miller realized his parents could probably never afford to send him to college.

Miller's father worked for McDonnell-Douglas and the job often took him out of town. Fortunately, Miller found a mentor and a second "father" in Central High School coach Eddie Sutton.

Miller said Sutton motivated Central's players to become better players and better people. Sutton was passing on what he learned from Henry Iba at Oklahoma A&M.

And it was Sutton who motivated Miller to get better every day and to be driven to secure a college scholarship.

When Miller finished high school in 1967, he followed Sutton to College of Southern Idaho. Miller said he turned down an offer to go to Oklahoma Baptist University because he didn't want to play for anybody except Sutton.

"Outside of my dad, he is the most influential man in my life in multiple things," Miller said.

So influential was Sutton that Miller wanted to be just like the coach. After playing two years at the Idaho junior college and two years at Texas Tech, Miller entered Sutton's profession and became a graduate assistant coach.

"But they had a thing called the draft in those days and that kind of changed a lot of my plans," Miller said. "They took me and put me in an airplane and, the first time they did that, I was hooked."

Miller, 62, is a retired (and decorated) Air Force colonel who lives in San Antonio. He earned a better life because Sutton taught him you have to work for anything you want. Miller also said Sutton taught him about loyalty and taking responsibility for your actions, no matter what they are.

"I have seen him have to live that out on the good side as well as the not so good," Miller said.

Miller indicated Sutton has been teaching the same principles to players since the 1960s. Added Miller, "I'm just very fortunate to be one of those who is at an age where I can still say they work."

Decades have not taken a toll on the Miller-Sutton relationship.

"I had access to him when I was in the ninth grade and I have access to him right now," Miller said.

"I have never been denied that access in my entire life. If I called him, he was there. I knew I had a man in my life that could be there whenever I needed him."


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