FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Arkansas closed its season with a 22-10 record, finished tied for second in the SEC’s Western Division at 10-6 and earned an NCAA Tournament bid for the first time in five years. Following is a partial transcript of head coach Stan Heath’s season wrap press conference.
“Sometimes after a loss, it’s easy to get down and disappointed, but when you sum up the whole season, it was definitely positive. We had the third-best record in the SEC, and we won our last six and fought our way into the NCAA Tournament. That was a great accomplishment. You have to walk before you can run and we took the right steps.
“Our team showed a lot of guts to get into the field of 64. There was a lot of improvement – Steven Hill, Charles Thomas, Ronnie Brewer, Jonathon Modica, who had his best season, and Eric Ferguson. We probably would not have been in the tournament without the way (Ferguson) played down the stretch.
“There was improvement in every area across the board, except for three spots – our three-point shooting, three-point defense and rebounding. We will emphasize those areas.
“We have the potential to be very, very good next year. With a guy like Gary Ervin in the mix, you never worry about the press or pushing the tempo. I also expect continued improvement from Steven Hill, Cyrus McGowan, Darian Townes and Charles Thomas. Right now, we don’t know what will happen with Ronnie Brewer.
“I think our fans will really enjoy watching Stefan Welsh (6-3, 180) play. Our fans don’t know a lot about him because he’s on the East Coast, but he does a lot of things and he can shoot it.
“We had a lot of close games and things could have gone south, but we didn’t let that happen. We were 6-6 in games decided by four points or less. With a pure point guard out there, that will hopefully help.
“I really feel like this team has the chance to be in the NCAA Tournament and advance if we work, continue to improve and stay healthy.”
Ronnie Brewer leaving for the NBA or returning for his senior season:
“We’ve had a brief conversation. He said he didn’t know what he was doing and that he needs some time. Out of respect for him and his family, we’ll give him some time. He has to declare for the draft, if that’s what he wants to do, and he has until mid-June to decide if he wants to leave his name
in. I need to do some homework and get him some information. When the time comes, we’ll have a formal announcement, but we’re giving him time.
“One thing important to him and his family is his education, and he’s a good student. He knows he still has areas to improve on – perimeter shooting, playing at different positions and defense. He’s a winner. He wants to win an SEC championship and compete for an NCAA championship, and he knows the ingredients are here.”
Getting back to the NCAA Tournament next year if Brewer leaves early:
“Obviously guys would have to step up and do more, but I would still feel good about our chances. Our front line is strong. Sean McCurdy will be a year older, Gary Ervin has been in the NCAA Tournament and Sonny Weems, I could be wrong about this, but he is something else and I think he can be an impact player. We’ve done a good job recruiting, and I think our guys will be hungry and will want to get back to the tournament.
“If Ronnie Brewer is still here, it could affect someone else’s decision. We will get one more and maybe two more.
“Three-point shooting is a key and we definitely want that. If I can’t find that, then I won’t turn down the best available player if they will make us better. Stefan Welsh is a good shooter and hopefully Sean McCurdy will be a good three-point shooter, but I would like to look for another one.”
“He had a very good freshman season and an inconsistent sophomore season. He had good moments for us. Others stepped up and got better and now the gap between them is closer. That’s not his fault. Others just got better. He needs to add a little power to his game in the post. I don’t think he was playing his best basketball at the end of the season. He knows he has some things he has to work on.”
More inside scoring:
“Jonathon Modica and Ronnie Brewer carried a heavy load for us. When we were really good, we had one other guy, usually an inside guy, getting 10 to 15 points. I would like to have our inside guys involved more offensively. To do that, they need more touches. Big guys need a few easy baskets. I think we’ll get more penetration from the guard spot and they will get some drop-off passes. Sonny Weems is a good passer and our personnel will allow us to get more from the big guys. It might even improve our shooting by playing from the inside out.”
Sonny Weems (6-6, 200):
“I think it will be hard to keep him off the floor. He’s a junior college kid, so it’s hard to know if it will take him a year to get adjusted, but I will be shocked if he’s not ready right away. He does too many things – transition, defensively with his quickness and anticipation, rebounding, he’s relentless moving without the ball and he’s hard to guard. He’s not a great shooter, but he’s not bad and he doesn’t take bad shots. He plays to his strengths and he’s very consistent. He’s had very good coaching and played against a high level of competition. I’ll be surprised if he’s not a high-impact player right away.”
Bucknell recap (NCAA Tournament):
“Early in a game, when a team is pressing, it’s a lot different than it is late in a game when they are holding the ball. Early in the game, they were attacking our press. Late in the game, they were holding the ball. I think that’s been overblown. When you miss nine free throws in the second half, it’s hard to win. When you go two-of-12 on threes, you put yourself in a hole. Bucknell made four shots with two seconds left on the shot clock. The breaks went their way. I thought two times the (play) clock showed 25 seconds and (the 10-second call) could have gone our way.
“Jonathon was favoring his ankle and he wasn’t as effective as he had been. The reason he wasn’t out there as much is because it would not have been in his or our best interest.
“I’m not making excuses. Everybody has guys banged up.”
“I thought our defense this year was awesome. Jonathon really improved defensively. Ronnie was tremendous at anticipating and getting steals, and he improved quite a bit. Our team is not made up of stud defenders, but our players worked at it, they bought into it and we had Steven Hill in the back to clean up things.”
“That’s always a possibility. Guys are always looking at opportunities and options, but right now there’s nothing there.”