Given many of the roster developments the Razorback basketball program has endured since April, it’s hard to escape the conclusion Arkansas is destined for a significant step back in 2015-16. With the departures of seniors Ky Madden and Alandise Harris, along with sophomore Bobby Portis and junior Michael Qualls, the team lost a majority of its leaders in all statistical categories.
Around that same time, news got a little worse when shooting guard Nick Babb announced he was transferring to Iowa State. In July it got a lot worse when two of the team’s most experienced and important returning players – Anton Beard and Jacorey Williams – were arrested on first-degree forgery charges.
After another issue involving a physical altercation Williams had with his girlfriend came to light, the senior was ultimately kicked off the team. Meanwhile, he and Beard’s still-pending legal situation looks bleak. Oh, and star recruit Ted Kapita – the big man who was supposed to help replace Portis’ lost production – decided to go get paid in Europe instead of messing with college.
Everything’s horrible, right?
Actually, head coach Mike Anderson predicts neither doom nor gloom. Of course, the situation is “a great, great challenge, but also a great opportunity for us to show that we’re not going backwards. We’re going to continue to go forward,” he said on 107.1 FM “The Fan” in El Dorado this week.
Anderson is confident in the younger players he has returning. “They know what it took to win 27 games, which is the sixth most in the history of this school,” he says.
But what if they know that it took an SEC Player of the Year like Portis, along with another star in Qualls and the help of Beard, Williams, Harris and Madden?
Anderson realizes there is a huge vacuum that key returnees like Anthlon Bell, Trey Thompson, Jabril Durham and Moses Kingsley must fill. How rapidly they develop and mature while meshing with star recruit Jimmy Whitt and transfers Dusty Hannahs and Willy Kouassi will largely determine this team’s fate. “It’s got to be an unselfish team. We’ve got to get some guys to really step up in that leadership role.”
Anton Beard and Jacorey Williams should have been two of those guys. In an interview with radio show host Carter Bryant, Anderson shared thoughts on his former player and other, more uplighting topics. The Carter Bryant Show excerpts below have been lightly edited for clarity.
How tough was it to say bye to Jacorey?
You never want to see one of your kids that came in, especially in his senior year, to have to move on, but I thought it was best for not only our program, but for Jacorey was to go ahead and move on. But that page has been turned, and we’re looking forward to going with the guys that are currently there, and they’re doing the right things.
What are you looking for in a Hog basketball player?
First of all, character. Somebody that’s going to do the right thing on and off the floor. You’ve certainly got to have talent. I think that’s big. I like aggressive players. I like guys that have big heart, and more importantly I like guys that play the game the right way. Unselfish – they play to win. And of course, our specialty is we like to get up and down the floor, but I like real basketball players that have good IQ.
Along those lines, how about that Bulls rookie Bobby Portis?
I’m real excited to see Bobby as he takes that next step. I think he’s ready for it. He had a great summer in prepping for it … He’s only 20 years old, so I want to see all those things that I saw in him, while he was at Arkansas, continue to unfold. For a guy that’s 6’11”, he’s one of those quick forwards. You’re not a power forward, he’s a quick forward, but very versatile, very skilled, and he’s going against the best. So I certainly look forward to seeing him continue to develop with the type of competition day in and day out he’s going to see.
What’s the latest on the Thunder’s Michael Qualls and his rehab?
Well, it’s funny you asked that. Mike just came by the office yesterday. We just got moved into our new offices in the basketball performance center, and I look up, and knocking at my door, there was Michael Qualls… He was coming from Shreveport, headed to Oklahoma City to continue to rehab in the off-season after, you know, tearing his ACL and the meniscus. He tore both of them, and so he’s got a road in front of him, but I could tell he’s in good spirits.
On the Razorbacks’ swank new basketball practice facility:
I think it’s the best in the country. I think we may have been one of the last ones to get one in the SEC, but we got it right, and I told Jeff [Long] ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.’ To me, it’s one of the better practice facilities not only in our league, but I think in the country. When you talk about all the amenities that it provides – like two courts with a full weight room, full training room, offices, lounge – you name it.
On Hog football:
I think Bret’s done a tremendous job. Coach Bielema is doing an excellent job. It takes time. You’ve got to have patience, and so he worked what he had, in terms of the players that were there, and now he’s getting some of the players that fit what he wants to do, and I think we’re seeing it.
I was at the (UTEP game), and what a great, great atmosphere. I love seeing the unexpected. People expect them to come out and play pound-it-out football, and lo and behold, you look up, and they got the air attack going. So it’s like basketball – it’s all about balance. This excitement about Razorback sports in general, not only just football, basketball, track, I mean you go on. Volleyball, soccer, I mean you can go on and on. All the sports, in terms of what is taking place. Jimmy Dykes is doing a great job with the women’s basketball team.
On if he feels his success helps more black college basketball coaches get higher profile jobs (e.g. Shaka Smart at Texas)
Well, I feel like I’ve been blessed to have an opportunity to be a head coach. I call it kind of like my assignment. I was with a pioneer, Coach [Nolan] Richardson, and I’m sitting there as he’s kind of laid the groundwork for me to have the opportunity. So it’s like a baton has been passed, and so I take my assignment real, real seriously. I’ve always been a guy that thrived on work ethic, and so you hope your team takes on the personality of the coach. I just feel like it’s my job to go out and do the best job I can do, and hopefully it will give an opportunity for many more black coaches – minority coaches – to get jobs.
Get more detailed interview transcript excerpts from the likes of Bret Bielema, Brandon Allen, JaMichael Winston and more through Evin Demirel’s BestOfArkansasSports.com.