FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas guards Fred Gulley and Kikko Haydar have been counting their consecutive wins again.
It had been a long time since No. 30 – three years in fact – but it hasn’t diminished the impressive run. Alcorn State was No. 31 on Dec. 15, Robert Morris was No. 32 a few nights later, and last Saturday’s win against Alabama A&M was No. 33.
“We haven’t lost a game for awhile since we’ve been playing together,” Gulley said last week, relishing the string of success with his old high school teammate.
The two Fayetteville High graduates who led their team to 30 straight wins during a memorable state title run in 2009, didn’t exactly think the count would continue when Gulley departed for Oklahoma State after his high school career. But after taking different routes through college basketball, the local products have been reunited at Arkansas and will help the Razorbacks (7-4) aim for their fourth straight win against Northwestern State (5-3) in Bud Walton Arena at 7 tonight.
Haydar is in his third season with the Hogs after walking on as a freshman under former coach John Pelphrey. The 5-foot-10 guard, who has become a fan favorite, is also turning in some solid moments in Mike Anderson’s up-tempo system.
Gulley, meanwhile, is back home after spending the first 2 1/2 years of his collegiate career at Oklahoma State. The Fayetteville native transferred back home last December and became eligible to play after the fall semester.
Neither is a starter. They don’t lead the Razorbacks in scoring, rebounding or assists. But each has been chipping in with valuable contributions off the Arkansas bench as the Razorbacks inch closer to Southeastern Conference play.
And neither can really believe it.
“We were talking (last week) and I said, ‘Fred, did you ever, ever think we would be on the same team in college?’” Haydar said. “He was a lot more highly recruited than I was. He was like, ‘No, I never did.’ But it worked out.”
The two have known each other since junior high, when Gulley already was garnering attention as a college prospect. So it’s no surprise Gulley said he handed Haydar’s teams a few losses back then — something Haydar acknowledges — but they finally got a chance to team up together at Fayetteville in 2006-07.
Gulley was a sophomore at Fayetteville and Haydar was a freshman. The latter being an undersized guard knew he had a lot to prove. Haydar knew how to do it, too.
“When I came out of junior high, the coaches thought I was kind of small,” Haydar said. “So what I decided to do, I decided that coming in, Fred was the best player in the state. So I’m going at him every day. No matter what it takes.
“I’d be bloodied and everything and he would go at me and he would kill me every day. And then it got to the point where I got better and I started playing more.”
It eventually led to the 2008-09 season, when Gulley and Haydar teamed to form the state’s top backcourt. Fayetteville reeled off a 30-0 season with the duo leading the way.
Gulley – who was the two-time Gatorade Player of the Year in the state — left home and headed to Oklahoma State after his senior season. Haydar, meanwhile, led Fayetteville to a runner-up finish at the state championships the next year. Then Haydar, whose parents are UA professors, walked on at Arkansas in 2010-11.
Neither enjoyed personal success early in their college careers. Haydar played occasionally, averaging 0.9 points in 29 games with the Hogs as a freshman and sophomore. Gulley averaged 2.1 points in 48 games with the Cowboys before leaving the program last fall and transferring to Arkansas last December.
But they’re enjoying more success with the Hogs now. Haydar is averaging a career-best 3.0 points and 10.2 minutes a game, which included the 13-point outing in 19 minutes at Michigan earlier this month. He provides a boost of energy to the Hogs any time he steps on the court and has been the first Hog off the bench.
“I didn’t know who he was. I thought he walked in off the street,” Michigan coach John Beilein said after Haydar scored 13 against his team. “He was a bit of a difference maker for a while. For a kid to sit on the bench and then come off and make shots like that was impressive. If he can do that all year he’ll help Arkansas.”
Gulley, after sitting out the first half of the season because of NCAA transfer rules, contributed 5 points, 3 rebounds and 3 steals in 13 minutes during his first action in more than a year against Alcorn State. He has provided a little more stability at point guard for the Hogs, played some key minutes in crunch time against Robert Morris, and has helped Arkansas consistently pester and harass opposing guards.
“I thought for a guy sitting out for a year he came in and got it going defensively,” Anderson said after Gulley’s first game with the Hogs.
“He has more basketball savvy than some of the young guys. He has a feel for the game. He knows what he is and what he brings to the table.”
They haven’t been on the floor together too often the past three games, but Haydar and Gulley said those spurts show the chemistry between each other remains. They know where they are on the floor and understand what the other is thinking.
Arkansas guard B.J. Young said it’s obvious. So is the fact they seem to provide a boost to the Razorbacks when they step on the court — especially at home.
“They’ve given us a spark,” Young said. “A spark that’s kind of hard to describe because they’re hometown kids and it seems like the energy of the game just goes up when those guys come in. They have a lot of hometown fans. It’s basically high school and college basketball mixed up. You don’t get to see that a lot.”
Haydar and Gulley didn’t think they’d get to see that together after high school.
But the two former Fayetteville High stars are teaming up as Razorbacks now, trying to help Arkansas extend its win streak tonight. And move their personal win streak on the court together to 34 straight as well.
“It’s surreal. Life is full circle,” Gulley said. “It seems like it doesn’t happen when you want it to, but it’s always there just in time. … It has been a blessing.”
Northwestern State (5-3) at Arkansas (7-4)
• When: 7 p.m. today
• Where: Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville
• TV: KATV-7
• Radio: KABZ-FM 103.7
• Series: Arkansas leads 7-1 (last meeting Arkansas 95, Northwestern State 56 on Dec. 27, 2008)