FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas men's basketball coach Mike Anderson did not hesitate to divulge what he's looking for this offseason, as the Razorbacks move past an 18-14 season: toughness.
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas men’s basketball coach Mike Anderson did not hesitate to divulge what he’s looking for this offseason, as the Razorbacks move past an 18-14 season: toughness.
He wants it in the returning players, who didn’t show much resiliency on the road and during their late-season collapse in 2011-12. He expects it from the incoming freshmen, who will help improve Arkansas’ roster number next season. He’s searching for it on the recruiting trail now, too, as the Razorbacks try to strengthen their roster.
“That’s what our team is going to be made out of: toughness,” Anderson said Thursday during a season wrap-up press conference in Bud Walton Arena. “We want to have guys that have that mentality that they can play no matter where they play. Teams are going to contend with a Razorback team they know is going to fight and fight you to the end.”
Anderson, two weeks removed from what proved to be the season-ending loss to LSU in the first round of the SEC Tournament, said he’s had some time to reflect on his first season at Arkansas. He credited his players for giving him “everything they had,” but was disappointed the Razorbacks lost eight of their final 10 after opening the season 16-6.
Depth issues were one big reason for the struggles. After all, Arkansas had only nine healthy scholarship players most of the season. But the Razorbacks also didn’t have the appropriate mental and physical makeup to battle down the stretch and Anderson said it must change in 2012-13.
“I think they played with some toughness,” Anderson said. “But there’s a level I want us to take that I don’t think they know that we’ve got to exhibit. You’ve got to exhibit a higher level. Especially with the teams that you’re going to face in the SEC and hopefully the NCAA Tournament.”
Anderson believes the topic can be addressed, both mentally and physically, when returning players participate in offseason workouts after spring break. The coaching staff is working on it in recruiting, too, trying to find size, strength and toughness to add to the roster.
For now, Arkansas should at least be closer to full strength next season unless there are unexpected departures. It’s a step in the right direction.
Three incoming freshmen will join the returning seven scholarship players (Julysses Nobles, Mardracus Wade, Rickey Scott, Devonta Abron, Hunter Mickelson, Ky Madden and B.J. Young). Oklahoma State transfer Fred Gulley will be eligible to play games after the fall. Quarterback Brandon Mitchell and new wide receiver MeKale McKay could also join the basketball team as walk-ons after the football season.
The most important addition will be Powell, who averaged 19.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in two games before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament. Anderson said Powell is tentatively scheduled to begin playing pickup games in June and, if everything goes to plan, will be key next fall.
“I just think he is tailor-made for what we do,” Anderson said. “He has that toughness that he can go inside and score for you. He has the versatility that he can step out on the floor. He is a rebounding machine when he wants to be and not only that, he is an older guy now. … Hopefully some of the experience can kick in and he has had a chance to sit and watch some of these guys develop.”
Arkansas has room for two more scholarship players at the moment, although Anderson hinted they might not stop there in recruiting. He has been on the recruiting trail since the season ended and was spotted by media members at the National Junior College Athletic Association’s championship tournament in Kansas earlier this week.
Toughness wasn’t the only topic during Anderson’s 28-minute press conference. Some other items of interest:
• Anderson plans to take Arkansas overseas for a summer basketball tour next August. He said the Razorbacks may travel to Italy, where they would play a handful of games against professional and club teams.
• Anderson also said Arkansas expects to play in a preseason tournament next season. The plans have not been finalized, but Anderson believes the exempt tournament will include some games at Bud Walton Arena and an opportunity to go on the road to play a nonconference play.
• Quarterback Brandon Mitchell wants to play two sports the rest of his Arkansas career after averaging 3.5 points in 10 games with the basketball team. Will it happen? Anderson didn’t provide any definitive answers Thursday.