FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Daryl Macon wasn’t always the upbeat, quick-witted member of the Razorbacks basketball team fans are familiar with now.
When the Arkansas guard isn’t busy trying to elicit a laugh, he speaks more softly and his mood turns reflective. The seriousness of his eyes betrays his well-deserved reputation as the easygoing, light-hearted jokester.
He shouldn’t be here.
If Macon had his way, way back as a senior in high school, he wouldn’t be in Fayetteville, where he is one of the key members of a team that will make its third NCAA Tournament appearance in four seasons when it opens play against Butler (20-13) on Friday.
That Daryl Macon, the kid he once knew, wanted to give up after finding out his lack of attention to academics in high school meant he had to attend junior college if he wanted to eventually play for his home state Razorbacks. He wanted to quit school, quit basketball.
“My mom talked me out of it,” Macon said. “If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be playing now.”
To hear Deloise Macon tell the story, that talk with her then-high school son was more of a directive than a two-way discussion.
“No, no, no,” she told her youngest during his senior year of high school at Little Rock Parkview. “We’re not done yet.”
Rather than dwell on all the times she had told her son that he needed more than just basketball to keep playing after high school, Macon sold him on what was next. She stressed what two years at Holmes Community College in neighboring Mississippi would mean for Daryl Macon as a basketball player — and as a man.
And then she sent her despondent son four hours away, unsure deep in her heart how he would do away from home.
“It was heartbreaking, really,” she said.
It only took a few months on his own at Holmes for Daryl Macon to understand what his mom had been saying all those years. On his own for the first time, away from friends and admittedly bored much of the time, Macon called home one night a few months after moving.
“I get it, I understand it,” Macon told his mom. “I get it.”
Macon might have grown up during those two years in Mississippi, but one area where he never had a problem was on the court. He was sixth nationally in junior-college scoring with an average of 23.9 points per game as a sophomore two years ago, a performance that was more than enough to finally earn the 6-foot-3 guard a spot back home at Arkansas (23-11).
The senior regrets having had only two years with the Razorbacks, but he’s left an unmistakable mark on the program.
Sure, there’s the on-the-court performance — including an average of 16.9 points per game this season and 3-point shooting percentage (42.9) that’s third in the Southeastern Conference.
More than any statistic, it’s the impact Macon’s personality has had that will be remembered. He regularly entertains fans with a pregame ritual that includes hitting 3-pointers from near halfcourt before running back to the dressing room, and he’s been known to delay postgame interviews in favor of signing every autograph he can.
Even in his postgame news conferences, Macon goes out of his way to make casual conversation with the media — an openness that carried over from the regular season to last week’s Southeastern Conference Tournament for him and teammates.
“Him bringing guys out of their shell, him being more open, I think that’s just maturity and getting comfortable in your own skin in terms of what you’re doing and your role on this basketball team,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “I just think he embodies the right things, and it’s refreshing to see.”
Macon wasn’t always this comfortable in the spotlight, or setting the emotional tone for friends and teammates.
Growing up, though, helped show him it’s OK to be himself.
“I can bring the best out in a person just by having fun,” Macon said. “I think having fun is the most important thing to do with this. You just can’t take everything serious; it wouldn’t be any fun.”
Follow Kurt Voigt on Twitter at @Kurt_Voigt_AP