After a summer to forget a year ago, it seems Mike Anderson and his Arkansas Razorbacks basketball program is enjoying a much better offseason in 2017.
From the end of the 2014-15 season through the end of 2015-16, it didn’t seem like Anderson and the basketball Hogs could catch a break.
Better-than-expected seasons by Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls enticed them to enter the NBA draft a year earlier than expected last June, leaving very little time for Anderson to recruit quality replacements.
With the loss of his top two underclassmen as well as senior starters Rashad Madden and Alandise Harris, Anderson’s Hogs were clearly in rebuilding mode.
The outlook got worse when the other ’14-15 starter Anton Beard, expected ’15-16 starter Jacorey Williams and transfer Dustin Thomas were arrested for attempting to pass counterfeit bills.
Anderson later dismissed Williams from the team after another run-in with the law, while he suspended Beard from playing in games for the fall semester. Thomas, who had to sit out after transferring, faced internal discipline but remained a part of the team.
The final summer blow came when Ted Kapita, the incoming recruit that probably could have helped the Razorbacks the most, failed to meet eligibility standards.
However, the news didn’t get a lot better in the fall when Malik Monk, an outstanding prepster from Bentonville, opted to take his talents to Lexington, Ky., to maximize his one year of college basketball by playing for John Calipari’s Wildcats. Monk couldn’t have helped the Hogs last season, but Razorbacks fans certainly would have been in a better mood if they knew Arkansas football star Marcus Monk’s little brother was on board for the next season.
All of that set up what would become a ’16-17 season that didn’t meet Anderson or the fans’ expectations of Razorback basketball.
Just going back over all the turmoil has my stomach doing flips. That’s half a decade’s worth of adversity squashed into a single season.
Following last season, Anderson said better days were ahead for Arkansas’ basketball program. As his mentor Nolan Richardson use to say with regularity, “all sickness isn’t death.”
Anderson and his staff have set about proving that. In fact, the work began before last season tipped off.
In hopes of enticing, Monk to come to Arkansas, Anderson and his staff put together a fine recruiting class last year, going heavy on the junior-college talent.
With the signatures of Jaylen Barford, a 6-3, do-it-all point guard; Arlando Cook, a 6-8, 210-pound forward; and Daryl Macon, a 6-3, scorer with defensive skills, last November, Anderson brought in immediate help.
That group would have complemented Monk well, but they no doubt will play well without him and against him this season. All three are on campus now, taking classes, and going through off-season workouts.
They should fit in very well with key returners Moses Kingsley, who made a great decision to return for his senior year after flirting with the idea of going pro; sharp shooter Dusty Hannahs, and Beard.
Arkansas’ talent level and depth will be much better this season, giving the Razorbacks the potential to return to NCAA Tournament play. Depending on how the players mesh, it could be a very exciting season. The team has scoring potential that no Arkansas squad has enjoyed, perhaps, since the glory days of Hawg Ball in the 1990s.
That’s not to say ’16-17 Razorbacks will match the success of those teams. The key to how good the Hogs will be is how well they defend and rebound. The good thing is that Anderson will have enough depth for the first time since taking over the Razorback program to use playing time as an incentive for players to bust their tails to play defense and to rebound.
The Razorback staff has also set the table for future success by drawing commitments from the top three players in what appears to be a very talented crop of in-state talent for 2017-18 season.
Over the weekend, the Hogs garnered a commitment from 6-6, guard Khalil Garland of Little Rock Parkview. He’s rated among ESPN’s top 100 players. He joined 6-10, El Dorado center Daniel Gafford, another ESPN top-100 player; and 6-7, Little Rock Mills forward Darious Hall, who had previously committed to the Hogs.
Shoring up those three in-state recruits this early is a testament to the effort Anderson and his staff is exerting on the recruiting trail, and gives them liberty to reach out to out-of-state prospects to fill other needs.
Now, only time will tell how all of this will actually works out, but regardless, this summer has been a much better one than last year’s no matter how you add it up.
That’s good news for Anderson, his program and Razorback fans in general.