To hear Arkansas basketball coach Mike Anderson tell it Thursday, there would appear to be a few common bonds this season between his current program and his former team, Missouri.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
Like Missouri, which is expected to receive a boost from senior forward Laurence Bowers’ return, the Razorbacks have a key player, junior forward Marshawn Powell, coming back from a knee injury. And while Missouri returns one of the best sixth men in the country in senior guard Michael Dixon, the Razorbacks also have a dynamite bench scorer, in sophomore shooting guard B.J. Young, who is expected to play a larger role this season.
And finally, like Missouri, which went on a five-game European trip in August, the Razorbacks got a chance to bond this summer during a trip of their own, to Italy.
Anderson, who spoke during the Southeastern Conference’s basketball media day in Hoover, Ala., didn’t mention Missouri. But he said the trip did wonders for his young roster, which features no seniors. Arkansas went 18-12 overall and 7-9 in the Southeastern Conference last season, Anderson’s first since he bolted MU after last April.
“Having a chance to go to Italy and play four games, and see what they bring to the table from a basketball standpoint or just a talent standpoint, (it helps),” Anderson said. “So I got a better idea (of what they can do) going into practice, and I think that’s why we’re really progressing, because I have an idea of what these guys bring to the table.”
Anderson apparently likes what he’s seen so far of Powell, a 6-foot-7, 240-pound forward who averaged 19.5 points and six rebounds in two games last year before he suffered a season-ending knee injury.
“In his mind, he thinks he’s 95 percent,” Anderson said. “I think he’s 85 percent, and 85 percent is pretty darn good. He’s a guy that (can play) inside and outside and there’s sense of urgency now (with him) because of the injuries that have taken place. Let’s be for real, when you go through the things he’s going through, you don’t take things for granted.”
Anderson said that chip on Powell’s shoulder has served his team well in practice, noting that practices “are very competitive” with his best big man back in the mix. However, Powell will likely have to spar with Young this year to regain the mantle as his team’s best player.
Young, a St. Louis native, averaged 15.3 points per game last season despite coming off the bench in 25 of 32 games. He is a preseason all-SEC first-teamer, as picked by the media, and was even one of three players to receive three preseason player of the year votes, a title ultimately bestowed upon MU junior guard Phil Pressey, who had five votes.
Anderson said Young and fellow youngsters such as junior guard Mardracus Wade, junior guard Rickey Scott, sophomore guard Rashad Madden and sophomore forward Hunter Mickelson should be better this season because of all the experience their gained last season, which each averaged a minimum of 17 minutes per game.
“Now the key is … putting (together) a team that’s going to get better as we go on,” Anderson said.
Arkansas’ schedule should allow for that, as notable programs like Syracuse, Oklahoma and Michigan dot the Razorbacks’ nonconference slate. The Razorbacks will open the Las Vegas Invitational with Arizona State on Nov. 23, then face either Creighton or Wisconsin on Nov. 24.
“We’ve got to come out the gates awful early,” Anderson said.
Regardless, Anderson seems excited about his team’s potential to do just that.
“It’s in ’em,” Anderson said. “(It’s) my job to get it out of them and polish it up and put the pieces together.”
The Razorbacks play host to SEC newcomer Missouri on Feb. 16, and will then make a return trip to Columbia on March 5.