Return to New York Will Be Different Experience for Hogs Than Before

Calipari has good reason to venture into Dallas, Big Apple, as do fans
Arkansas Razorbacks forward Trevon Brazile (2) goes up for a dunk in the second half as South Dakota State Jackrabbits forward Broden Lien (33) defends at Bud Walton Arena. Mandatory Credit:
Arkansas Razorbacks forward Trevon Brazile (2) goes up for a dunk in the second half as South Dakota State Jackrabbits forward Broden Lien (33) defends at Bud Walton Arena. Mandatory Credit: / Nelson Chenault – USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK -- There's a slight drizzle and a cool breeze drifting through New York City's Madison Square Park.

The smell of Shake Shack carries through the air from a small location on the south side of the park. From the north, the sound of dogs running with glee in a pack as owners throw tennis balls off small rolling turf hills echos it's way off the nearby buildings and among bustling park goers.

According to John Calipari, this very spot may be the oasis Arkansas fans will need to become familiar with in years to come. Lost in the shuffle of the Hogs' new coach explaining his philosophy on carrying a shorter roster and the announcement that Arkansas will face Michigan in the Jimmy V Classic is the nugget of three select cities he wants his Hogs in each season if possible.

Little Rock, Dallas, and New York City, specifically Madison Square Garden for the latter, make up the trio of desired stops for Calipari. Little Rock is always a nice opportunity to play in front of a full house the week before Christmas when students have long since abandoned campus.

Dallas may have more Razorbacks fans than the state of Arkansas itself as native residents looking for work at solid wages and former Texans who flood Fayetteville for college returning home make up a large percentage of one of the largest media markets in America. Reunion Arena, known as Barnhill South during the 80's and 90's, was once a yearly stop where Hogs fans packed out the old home of the Dallas Mavericks for the Southwest Conference Tournament. Now the American Airlines Center, about a mile northwest of the now bulldozed arena, possibly follows suit.

While those two make sense from a fans' perspective, Calipari has apparently settled on his third choice for recruiting purposes. Hitting two of the Top 4 most populous television markets, both of which have a large number of high profile recruits in the immediate area, serves as a strong selling point.

They also guarantee high profile games that will garner maximum national exposure while building an image of a national program that a fun trip to Hawaii doesn't quite communicate. In addition, it allows Calipari to keep a foot in his old stomping grounds in the Northeast where his name and nice suits still carry strong influence.

It harkens back to the 1990s when Arkansas was last viewed as a major national program that was a legitimate threat to win the national championship on a yearly basis. Under the leadership of Nolan Richardson and fresh off a Final Four, the No. 2 Hogs knocked off Vanderbilt and No. 15 Oklahoma in Barnhill in the opening rounds of the Preseason NIT before traveling to New York to take down No. 6 Duke in MSG in the semis with a loaded roster featuring future NBA stars Todd Day, Lee Mayberry and Oliver Miller, before losing to No. 3 Arizona in the championship game.

It's definitely a different New York from then. Sure, the hotels are still tiny for the cost and Times Square is still a tourist trap looking to suck hundreds of dollars from the bank accounts of outsiders by marking up everything from restaurant water to M&Ms, but there are noticeable differences from even a few years ago.

No longer as prevalent are the famous yellow taxis. Instead, the streets are littered with thousands of Uber drivers who fashion themselves stunt drivers as they speed up and slow down in violent fashion while whipping riders to and from LaGuardia to Manhattan in a manner reminiscent of old wooden roller coasters built before general safety was a concern.

The occasional smell of urine wafting on the breeze while passing an alley or a certain step in a subway entrance has been replaced by the non-stop putrid stench of marijuana literally everywhere. The city legalized its use publicly a few years ago, so traversing the city in a traditional manner feels akin to being stuck in an elevator with a Dollar General Snoop Dogg knockoff at all times.

There are positive developments since Arkansas last hit the Big Apple also. While that Uber is going to run around $70 one way, the subway system has kept things economical and is still the most efficient way to get around. Unlimited subway passes for an entire week are only $34.

There's also the addition of Max Brenner's Chocolate by the Bald Man two stops south of MSG at Union Square. Opened in 2006, this restaurant is known for its copper pipes flowing with chocolate over patrons' heads to the back where it is served up in a wide array of decadent sweets.

It's highly recommended to get real food first, such as a panko crusted chicken, then close with a nice thick and warm Italian hot chocolate, because the richness of the chocolate can get overwhelming. It's also possible to go in and just have a massive chocolate fondue set-up for the table filled with different types of chocolate, warm toffee and a wide variety of things to dunk in the melty goodness over open flames, but again, at least get some sort of non-sweet drink to cut back on the overwhelming doses of rich chocolate.

Across the street from Max Brenner is a three-story Regal Cinema that has an unlimited movie pass subscription plan for $23 per month. It's a great way to kill time without breaking the bank, especially in early December when Arkansas visits New York. As this is a prime movie release window, there will be plenty of flicks to fill the hours.

It should be noted that the minimum subscription is three months, although there is usually a promotion going on to get that third month free. Plus, for Razorbacks fans making the trip from Central Arkansas, the free movies can continue at the Regal in North Little Rock as the plan purchased in New York is on the tier that works anywhere in the country.

Those who need even more options to cut down on the budget can head back up to the south side of Madison Square Park where multi-story Popeye's, Taco Bell, and McDonald's restaurants provide glass overlooks of entrance into the park. It's a great place to dog watch while trying to guess what breed of pooch is being escorted back home after a day of play. The variety is deep, so brush up on your breeds before trying this one.

Also, for those willing to crane their necks down a bit, it's possible to see the Empire State building a few bocks up from these second story seats as well. However, keep an eye on the clock because fast food restaurants really mean it when it comes to the fast part.

Patrons aren't allowed to hang around more than 30 minutes, so families might want to cut down on the time spent complaining about not knowing the difference between which direction is downtown and uptown when trying to figure out trains and explaining the strong odor of skunk without having to have an in-depth drug talk with the kids.

Having made the journey numerous times, in comparison to the many other cities the media business has required traversing over the decades, fans should know it's one of the safest, despite what stereotype many in the state might have in regard to New York. The marijuana smell and keeping an eye out for e-bikes and long trains of roller blading enthusiasts are the only real concerns.

Unlike a lot of high population locations, never once has there been a sense of danger. It can be crowded, especially on holidays, but never have I seen a rat other than behind closed glass at the Bronx Zoo, nor have I worried about being robbed or mugged.

It's a trip that's not for everyone, especially a lot of people who grew up strictly in Arkansas. However, it's an invaluable one for the Razorbacks at a time where the program is on the precipice of having what it needs to return to the glory of the 90's.

So, enjoy it in person if possible, but if New York's not for particular Hogs fans, kick back and enjoy it on national television while Arkansas regains its place in the spotlight on college basketball's biggest regular season stage – the Jimmy V. Classic.


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Kent Smith


Kent Smith has been in the world of media and film for nearly 30 years. From Nolan Richardson's final seasons, former Razorback quarterback Clint Stoerner trying to throw to anyone and anything in the blazing heat of Cowboys training camp in Wichita Falls, the first high school and college games after 9/11, to Troy Aikman's retirement and Alex Rodriguez's signing of his quarter billion dollar contract, Smith has been there to report on some of the region's biggest moments.