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There are always impressive “legends” when the SEC introduces a former star from every school at the SEC Basketball Tournament. No offense to anyone else, but Arkansas will bring in the legend of legends next week in St. Louis.

I’m talking about ability and academics. The SEC will honor Dr. Pookie.

That’s what University of Arkansas journalism professor Gerald Jordan calls Jonathon Modica. Never mind that the Smackover native hasn’t really been Pookie for the last decade. He’s moved on to the corporate world, now at Adobe’s corporate office in San Jose, Calif., the senior human resources business partner for the massive Silicon Valley software company.

He feels blessed to have landed so high in the corporate world after earning three degrees at Arkansas. He completed his playing days as No. 2 on the school’s all-time SEC scoring list, just 11 points behind Corliss Williamson.

Modica is 12th on the all-time UA scoring list with 1,589 points. For perspective, remember he played in the methodical system of Stan Heath, sometimes coming off the bench to replace Heath signees that had less ability.

I remember Modica as Nolan Richardson’s last recruit, signed in the early signing period before the coach with the national championship was fired in March. Andre Iguodala was also in that early signing class, but he opted out after Richardson was fired and landed at Arizona.

Not Modica. He was going to be a Razorback from the start, no matter the coach. He does like to think of himself as a Richardson recruit. He was offered by Mike Anderson on the phone and committed in the next breath.

“It happened all of a sudden,” Modica said. “I didn’t think I was on their radar, and maybe I wasn’t until I went to a showcase that summer. I started to get some calls and the next thing I knew, Coach Anderson called. He said they were going to offer.”

Well, what did that mean, an offer then or an offer at some point later? Modica didn’t wait for an interpretation.

“I just told him, ‘I commit,’” he said. “I wasn’t sure he was serious, but I didn’t want to wait. It was all I ever wanted.”

There were hints of other offers. Buzz Peterson at Tennessee was calling after the trip to the Bob Gibbons showcase in Atlanta.

It never got serious with anyone else.

“I wanted to play for Coach Richardson,” Modica said. “I was really pleased that after I committed on the phone Coach Richardson still flew to El Dorado and came to see me play (in Smack-over). He came to my home, a real home visit.

“I still look at it as I was in a unique position, his last player. There were some others on campus who came in before me, but I made it all the way to the end. I wanted to represent him and of course our state. I wanted to help move our team forward.

“I tried not to think about some of the things that were going on with Coach Richardson, just focus on what I could do for the Razorbacks and our state.”

Modica did so much. He had that great power jump shot that produced 3-pointers in streaks, such as the day before the Super Bowl in 2006 when he hit six 3-pointers and scored 37 points in a big win over South Carolina.

Engaging, bright and articulate is how I remembered him. Apparently, he was the same in the journalism department where he bonded with both Jordan and Jan Wicks, an advertising specialist.

They would become Modica’s mentors. He leaned on both when he decided professional basketball in Turkey wasn’t his thing.

“I remember running into Pookie at the airport on his way to Turkey,” Jordan said. “We talked a little. I think he was already with an understanding that it wasn’t going to advance his career.”

Modica was back in one month, enrolled to finish his degree. He would add a masters in journalism and a doctorate in education.

Clay Henry can be reached at chenry@nwadg.com .

Print Headline: Modica defines what a true legend really is

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