FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Arkansas basketball coach John Pelphrey improved his depth on the perimeter on Monday by bringing in shooting guard Levan Patsatsia (La-von Pot-sot-see-ah) from the country Georgia.
Patsatsia is a 6-6, 205-pound freshman with extensive international experience. This past summer, he made Georgia’s FIBA Under-19 World Championship team, but was injured and missed the tournament. Before that, he was named the national team player of Georgia and the Under-18 Georgian Player of the Year.
“We’re excited about the addition of ‘Patsa,’” Pelphrey said. “He is a big guard who can help us with our perimeter shooting. He’s an extremely hard worker who I think will be a big part of our future. Looking at our roster, you could tell we needed guard depth and he helps.”
Patsatsia, from Tbilisi, Georgia, played for junior team SSU Sukhumi from the ages of 10 through 16. Since then, he’s worked with a personal coach and played for several teams in several tournaments. After making the Georgia national team, he missed the FIBA Under-19 World Championships with a broken left elbow.
Prior to making the national team, he played for Aron Sur in Spain and earned the rebounding award for the most rebounds in a six-game Christmas tournament. Before that, he played for FC Barcelona in Milega, Spain, leading his team to a tournament title and earning MVP honors after scoring 27 points in the championship game.
He was also named the MVP of the Attack basketball camp in Spain and attended the Addidas top 50 Euro Camp in Berlin where he was voted the camp’s best shooter.
“We were able to get on Patsa through some of my contacts that I had known previously and respect in this business,” Pelphrey said. “Our guard depth is not great. With Nate Rakestraw and Marcus Britt, and now Patsa, hopefully those guys will be able to provide us with some depth.”
The three incoming guards will compete for playing time with returning lettermen Gary Ervin, Patrick Beverley and Stefan Welsh in Arkansas’ backcourt.
“The coaches have told me I play they way they like to play,” Patsatsia said. “I am a shooting guard who likes to play in transition.”
Patsatsia, who was also recruited by St. John’s, is the fourth member of this year’s recruiting class, joining Britt, Rakestraw and forward Michael Sanchez.
Britt, 6-3 and 180 pounds, prepped at Forrest City and helped the Mustangs go 26-3 for Coach Dwight Lofton. His team won the Class 6-A East Conference title and reached the state finals where
Britt made six three-pointers and scored 27 points in an 83-72 loss to Jonesboro. He averaged 18 points, five assists and four rebounds for the year after averaging 18.5 points as a junior. A three-time all-state selection, he was named first-team All-Arkansas, all-state, all-conference and named to the Class 6-A state all-tournament team this year. He is rated as the No. 96 prospect in the nation by ’07 Hoops.
Rakestraw was also named all-state, to the state all-tournament team, to The Morning News’ all-area squad and third-team All-Arkansas after averaging 19.4 points and shooting 41.3 percent on three-pointers (78-181) for Coach Eric Burnett in leading Har-Ber High School to the Class 7-A state finals.
He made nine-of-14 shots, including three-of-six threes, and had 24 points and six rebounds for the Wildcats in the state championship game. He had 15 points against Little Rock-Catholic in the quarterfinals and 13 against Rogers in the semifinals.
Rakestraw, 6-5, is rated the No. 29 shooting guard in this year’s class by Scout.com. In the summer prior to his senior season, he averaged 27 points in AAU with the Arkansas Hawks and was a four-time all-tournament selection. As a junior, he averaged 18 points.
As a sophomore, he prepped at Siloam Springs (Ark.) High, and averaged 21 points, nine rebounds and three steals, and was named the Benton County Daily Record Sophomore of the Year.
Sanchez, 6-8 and 230 pounds, teamed at Har-Ber with Rakestraw and averaged 15.8 points, 13.8 rebounds and 7.0 assists. Sanchez notched a double-double in every conference game he played. In the state finals against Northside, he had 16 points on seven-of-14 shooting and seven rebounds. In the semifinal win over Rogers, he had 18 points and 14 rebounds.
As a junior, he averaged 18 points and 11 rebounds on a 15-14 club, despite being hampered by tendonitis. As a sophomore, he averaged 18 points and 12 rebounds, and was ranked among the top 50 sophomores in the nation by Scout.com. He was also invited to the NBA Players Association Camp and the Reebok ABCD camp.
Sanchez was named first-team All-Arkansas, all-state and to the Class 7-A state all-tournament team as a senior. He was also named to the all-area team by The Morning News.
Britt, Patsatsia, Rakestraw and Sanchez join all five starters back from last year and nine total returning lettermen.
The top returnees are seniors Ervin (9.9 ppg, 4.8 assists), a two-time SEC Player of the Week last year; Steven Hill (6.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.8 blocks), last year’s SEC Defensive Player of the Year who enters his final season 10th on the SEC’s career blocked shots list with 244; Charles Thomas (10.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg), who needs 165 points to reach 1,000 for his career, and 176 rebounds and 57 free throws to move into the school’s top 10 in those categories; Darian Townes (8.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg), who needs just 107 points to reach 1,000 for his career and 158 rebounds to reach UA’s top 10; Sonny Weems, who was named to the SEC Tournament and Old Spice Classic all-tournament teams; and sophomore Beverley (13.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.1 assists), last year’s SEC newcomer and freshman of the year who led the USA Basketball U19 team to a second-place finish at the FIBA World Championships by leading the U.S. in scoring (13.0), steals (3.4) and assists (3.2).
Pelphrey was named head coach on April 9 after leading South Alabama to regular season and conference tournament championships in the last two years, and NCAA Tournament and NIT appearances. His 2006 team recorded the best turnaround in the nation, improving from 10-18 in 2005 to 24-7. Despite losing the top three scorers off that team, his 2007 squad went 20-12, won the Sun Belt Conference regular season title and earned a spot in the NIT.