You have descended into the Hades of College Basketball: Barnhill Arena in Fayetteville, Ark. This is where the Razorbacks create and perfect the torture sessions that coach Nolan Richardson fondly calls "forty minutes of hell." Arkansas attacks opponents at both ends of the floor with a two-platoon, perpetual-pressure system that's as dizzying as Richardson's polka-dot shirts. Last season that scheme propelled the Hogs into the Final Four; this season, its strength still lies in the dynamic talents of two players who are as tenacious as Cerberus—Lee Mayberry and Todd Day.
Mayberry, a 6'2" junior point guard, plays with the grim mien of an undertaker. Don't be deceived, though, by his quiet manner or his given name, which is almost too cute to mention. (O.K., it's Orva.) Last season Mayberry shot 50.4% from three-point range and averaged 14.5 points, 5.2 assists, 2.9 rebounds, 1.9 steals and only 1.7 turnovers in 32 high-speed minutes a game. "As far as heart and character and doing whatever it takes," says Rick Schaeffer, the Razorback publicist, "Lee's the closest thing to [former Arkansas All-America] Sidney Moncrief I've seen in my 15 years here."
Day is a 6'8" junior swingman whose bravado belies his undernourished physique. Not for nothing have teammates anointed the 195-pound Day with the unmenacing nickname of Bone. Yet he possesses a malevolent stare and the heart of an assassin. When Day isn't running down and gunning down opponents—his averages of 19.5 points and 2.3 steals led the Hogs last year—he is trash-talking them to death with phrases he picked up back home in Memphis. "You can tell when Lee's taking over by the look in his eyes," says teammate Darrell Hawkins. "With Todd, you know how he's doing because he's telling you and everybody else."
Says Richardson of Mayberry and Day, "You've got a low-key, team-oriented kid playing alongside a hyper, tough city kid. It's like having a negative and a positive charge, like what you need for starting your car."
Mayberry and Day are the best backcourt in the land. Just ask Texas coach Tom Penders, who has watched May-Day distress his Longhorns on six straight occasions in the last two years. In a 109-100 win over Texas in Fayetteville last January, Day had 34 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals. "There are no holes in his game," says Penders. Ten days later in Austin, Mayberry made a game-tying 28-footer with :04 remaining in regulation; the Razorbacks eventually won in OT, 103-96.
Don't think that Mayberry is at Arkansas simply because his older sister, Kim, is married to Richardson's son, Nolan III, or because Mayberry used to attend Richardson's summer camps in Tulsa or because he used to shoot hoops in Richardson's driveway. When Richardson left the head coaching job at Tulsa in 1985, Mayberry was starring at Will Rogers High in town. But Mayberry wasn't keen on following his sister's father-in-law to Fayetteville. "The team wasn't winning," he says. "And the fans there were really dogging Coach Richardson."
For his part, Richardson wasn't keen on recruiting this quiet kid who used to play on the living room floor with young members of the two families. "I'm a grandfather, and his dad's a grandfather—of the same child," says Richardson. "I really didn't need all that pressure."
But Nolan III, a former assistant coach in the CBA who is a volunteer coach at Arkansas, and Richardson's other assistants kept insisting that Mayberry was worth the risk. Still, Richardson wasn't convinced until he watched Mayberry lead undersized Rogers High to the 1988 Class 5A state championship with 26 points and five rebounds in the title game. "Whatever Lee had to do, he did," says Richardson. "He was the one head controlling the whole team."
The prospect of immediate playing time helped sway Mayberry to join the Hogs, but even he was shocked when Richardson named him as the Razorbacks' starting playmaker as a freshman. Mayberry justified his coach's faith by earning unanimous selection as the SWC's Newcomer of the Year—even if he still had to justify his scholarship to needling teammates. "[Guard] Arlyn Bowers always tells me I'm talking, 'Daddy this' to Coach," says Mayberry.
Day's prodding of Mayberry is of a different sort. "Lee's not aggressive enough," he says. "I see him take over a game, and to me, he should do that all the time."