FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Wednesday was media day for the Arkansas Razorback basketball team. Head coach Stan Heath’s club returns two starters and seven lettermen from last year’s 22-10 team which earned an NCAA Tournament bid, tied for second in the SEC’s Western Division, led the SEC with a 15-1 home record and recorded wins over two top 10-ranked opponents.
The Razorbacks open practice on Friday with Razorback Hoop Mania, an open event featuring fan contests, the spirit squads and a scrimmage. The doors open at 9:15 and the players will be introduced at 10.
Following is a partial transcript of Heath’s press conference:
“We’re excited to get started. We’ve really tested the team to find out how tough they are. I see this as a statement year for us. I don’t ever want to go through rebuilding again. I want to reload. We’re losing Ronnie Brewer, Jonathon Modica and Eric Ferguson – that’s three 1,000-point scorers. I don’t want to try to replace one guy with one guy. I don’t think it works like that. With balance in other areas, size on the front line and better defense, we could be a better team. That remains to be seen.
“Our point guard play should be the best it has been since I’ve been here. Gary Ervin and Sean McCurdy have a really good feel for that position.
“We were third in the SEC in scoring last year, so scoring wasn’t an issue. We need to rebound better and get putbacks. The second area we need to work on is three-point defense. That will be a collective effort.
“We have a lot of work to do, but these guys love to be in the gym and work. I think this team has the ingredients to be a good team. We have good chemistry. This team has a lot of versatility to it and we have time to explore that.”
“Throughout the preseason, clearly Gary Ervin and Steven Hill have done things not requested by the coaches to bring the team closer together. Steven has been more through his efforts and the way he plays. Gary is constantly saying things on and off the floor that are the right things.
“Charles Thomas has stepped up in some ways and Vincent Hunter has been another statesman on our team.”
“Gary hasn’t played a game yet or proven anything in a Razorback jersey, but I like what he’s done so far. He’s faster than Dontell (Jefferson) so we’ll be faster because that’s who Gary is. Things have adjusted because our speed is better.”
Freshmen (Patrick Beverley, Michael Washington, Stefan Welsh):
“Whatever they earn, the will get. At the off-guard, we don’t have a tremendous amount of experience. Patrick and Stefan’s value is important. They don’t need to force things. They need to play to their strengths and let the game come to them. They both shoot well and play defense, and Patrick has a knack for getting rebounds, especially for someone his size.
“Michael is way behind everybody else because he had not had a chance to work with any of the coaches. It will probably take him a month to catch up, but he has a high ceiling.”
Newcomers coming from winning programs:
“You can hear it in the way they talk. They talk about winning and it’s really genuine. Sonny Weems won state in high school and the national championship in junior college. That has nothing to do with scoring averages. I like that chemistry and that’s exciting.”
Style of play:
“Ronnie Brewer and Jonathon Modica were outstanding scorers, but we probably relied on those guys way too much and our fate probably depended on how they played. Don’t underestimate what Charles Thomas, Darian Townes or Steven Hill have inside. I think those guys will show some things they didn’t show last year.”
“He’s probably about 85 or 90 percent. You don’t see him explode and go after rebounds like he did last year.”
“He’s done a great job this off-season. He’s lost about 10 pounds, has improved his quickness, he’s matured and doesn’t have emotional highs and lows like last year. He’s very talented. Between his minutes going up and his touches going up, he will be more productive.”
“He went to a lot of camps and played just about all summer at small forward and he held his own. If he can do that from a defensive standpoint, sprinting back down the floor and getting through screens, that could create a great matchup for us.”
“He plays above the rim. He jumps well and has a chance to be a very good impact player right away. He’s fascinating to watch and low maintenance. He’s not a guy you have to run your offense through. He runs the floor like a gazelle, really, really fast. He gets a lot done without you running a play for him. His ball handling is better than he gets credit for and he can knock down the three.”
“Our identity needs to be pressure man-to-man. We need to extend the floor with pressure defense. With an erasure in the back like Steven Hill, we have the luxury of taking chances. We can create an uncomfortable pace for opponents and make it fun to watch for our fans.
“If we want to play pressure defense or up the tempo, you have to have depth and we have that. I’ve always wanted four or five guys in double figures. I like balance. I feel comfortable that when guys play to their strength, we will be productive.”
“He’s definitely more aggressive. He’s finding ways to score by running the floor, coming off screens and being available for dump-off passes. He’s not a three or four-point scorer and he’s not a 20-point guy. He’s somewhere between.”
Assistant coach Glynn Cyprien:
“He’s an experienced coach who has been around the block. He’s been around some great coaches. His strength is defense, but he knows the whole game. He’s a good recruiter. He’s a very good coach who has been added to our staff.”
The big guys:
“We haven’t played a game, but in practice you can see they want the ball and are looking for it. Darian has looked to shoot in the past, but Steven looked to get it back out to Ronnie Brewer or Jonathon Modica. Our team is good at passing. When that improves, your scoring improves.”
Arkansas returning to the NCAA Tournament:
“I wish we could have done it a little sooner. I see stability now. When Al Jefferson doesn’t come or Olu Famutimi leaves early, it sets you back. This team will be together for a couple of years.”