1999-2000 Razorback Basketball Outlook
BY ANDRES FOCIL
Call them the young guns. Some of them are barely shaving. Over half of them don’t have a minute of major college basketball experience. Somehow, though, Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson thinks one of the youngest teams he’s ever coached will be ready to be something special before the 2000 is over. The key question is, how soon will it be a special team? The schedule is difficult and the Southeastern Conference is at an all-time talent high. It seems everyone in the league recruited well and the league has been the nation’s best at reaching the NCAA Final Four in the past decade. Arkansas contributed three of those Final Four appearances and won a national championship in 1994. “We are hoping the last two classes we have recruited will get us closer to being able to compete on a national level again,” says Richardson. “After the NCAA investigation (in 1996), we did pretty well considering we played in the NCAA Tournament again the last two seasons. But, our goal has always been the national championship. Our last two classes are more athletic and give us a chance to play the style I’ve always liked best.” Only two current Razorbacks weren’t recruited in the last two years. CHRIS WALKER is the only senior. He came to Fayetteville without a scholarship before earning one last year. BRANDON DAVIS is Arkansas’ only junior. He had just moved into the starting lineup last year when he suffered an ankle injury at Ole Miss that sidelined him for the season. BRANDON DEAN, SERGERIO GIPSON, T.J. CLEVELAND and JASON GILBERT are sophomores who have played. DIONISIO GOMEZ enrolled as a partial qualifier and practiced last year but couldn’t play. Under the new NCAA guidelines he is expected to have four years of eligibility so he’s listed as a redshirt freshman. Incoming freshmen CARL BAKER, ALONZO LANE, JOE JOHNSON, LARRY SATCHELL and CHARLES TATUM are newcomers. Johnson and Satchell have not qualified and are waiting to see if the NCAA revises its eligibility requirements by the time school starts August 23. If it doesn’t happen, best case scenario is for both to be eligible at the end of the first semester. “This is definitely one of, if not the youngest teams I’ve ever coached,” Richardson says. “You’d like to have a blend of youth and experience but we have just one senior. That’s Chris Walker and he is going to have to be a leader for us. We also need to get some leadership from our sophomores. They’ve all played and are capable of being leaders. “It will be an exciting group to work with. We have good size. We don’t have a true center but we have brought in several players in the 6-6 to 6-8 range. They can run and press and allow us to play closer to the 40 minutes of pressure we like to play. “Last year we brought in several guards. This year we worked hard at bringing in skilled forwards who can run. They can be good pressers. They have good speed and quickness. We hope their basketball IQ is good. When we saw them play in high school and in Robinson’s case, junior college, they showed us they are capable of making good decisions.” Richardson is glad they made decisions to come to Arkansas. The Hogs lost their top three scorers – Pat Bradley, Derek Hood and Kareem Reid – from last year’s team. Bradley set school single season and career three-point field goal records while he was at Arkansas and Reid shattered every assists standard. Hood led the SEC in rebounding twice and became only the second Razorback, and first in 20 years, to snare at least 1,000 career rebounds. Arkansas also lost seven-foot center JASON JENNINGS, who decided to transfer, and JUSTIN HANKINS, who gave up basketball. Richardson left an open invitation to Razorback football tight end JOE DEAN DAVENPORT to return in January but knows it would be a luxury to have him around. “Our sophomores are experienced,” says Richardson. “We played them at crucial times last year. Our newcomers have talent and should fit in. We hope they will all be eligible. That would be a plus.” Richardson can envision 40 minutes of non-stop running and pressure with this group. Gipson, Dean and Cleveland are more than capable defenders. They enjoy the quick paced trapping of Richardson’s defenses. Gilbert is like having a coach on the floor. Gomez also fits into Richardson’s trapping style as do Johnson, Lane, Satchell, Baker and Robinson. Tatum is quick enough to be a fine defender and is a unique point guard that has the ability to not only distribute the ball but to score. “All the incoming forwards can shoot a little bit,” Richardson says. “We could have a little more firepower from our forwards than we had last year. Tatum is a very good shooter. He is a point guard but he is a scoring guard as well. He’s not the same type guard Reid was. He isn’t as quick to the basket but he is steady and can do a lot of things.” Several Razorbacks stayed in Fayetteville for part of the summer and worked to get stronger and quicker. Dean was set to tour Japan with a group of Southeastern Conference all-stars in August. Gomez was summoned to play with the Panamian National Team during the summer. Richardson figures the experience will help Dean and Gomez considerably. Early experience will be critical to this club because the SEC could be at its all-time strongest from top to bottom. Richardson says the league “is loaded with young talent. Florida in the East and Auburn in the West are probably going to be the favorites. Florida has tremendous talent. They should be very good. Auburn has nearly its entire team back from last year. Alabama had a great recruiting class and Kentucky did well, too. “Mississippi State and Ole Miss recruited well. LSU has everyone back and signed a couple of good ones. They are on their way back. It is a dangerous league.” Richardson wants to return to the top of the SEC but admits his first goal every year is “to win another national championship. But, we have other goals along the way. The first goal is to get our players in the best shape possible physically and in conditioning before we start pre-season drills. Our next goal is to go into our first game understanding what we are trying to accomplish. Then we take it game at a time. We want to win the SEC West, then the SEC, then get into the NCAA Tournament, then win it all. We start with small goals but our ultimate goal is the same every year.” How soon this young group is ready to accomplish Richardson’s goal remains to be seen. He says, “We won’t be awesome in the beginning but we think by the middle of the SEC season we could be a pretty good basketball team.” They will be a little older and might even be shaving by then.
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