Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson used the words “mental toughness” and “leadership” frequently on Friday as he looked back on his second season with the Razorbacks.
Alandise Harris will be elgible next season after transferring in from Houston.
Arkansas (19-13, 10-8) failed to qualify for post-season play for the second consecutive year under Anderson and that's something he wants to change immediately. Anderson did feel the Razorbacks were slighted by the NIT considering the strength of schedule as well as wins over such schools as Florida, Missouri, Kentucky, Oklahoma and others.
“We not only want to get to the Dance, but dance when we get there,” Anderson said. “I think the preparation for that starts right now.”
Anderson and his staff are recruiting hard even though technically they don't have any available scholarships at this time. Lee College swingman Jamal Jones and New Mexico Junior College guard Desmond Lee are among Arkansas' targets though Anderson can't comment on any athlete who is not signed.
“The way to get to that place we want to be is through recruiting,” Anderson said. “Coming in and changing the culture that is what you have to change....what is expected. The formula for winning a championship is take care of home and then go on the road and steal some whether it is half of them or more.”
Anderson is excited to have power forward Bobby Portis and power forward-center Moses Kingsley joining the team next season. Both are rated among the top big men in the nation. Anderson is also expecting big things from former Little Rock Central and University of Houston forward Alandise Harris, who had to redshirt this season due to the transfer rule.
“We've added some new pieces,” Anderson said. “We have two young me we signed in November and Alandise Harris who I think will give us the toughness.
“When you go on the road and compete in the SEC you talk competing for a national championship you've got to have some toughness. You've got to have some leadership and here's a guy (Harris) who has been through the wars. He wants to be a Razorback. Leadership was something we struggled with at times this year.”
Portis was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Arkansas earlier this week and the Razorbacks beat several powers to get Kingsley's signature.
Bobby Portis will play in a pair of all-star games incliuding the McDonald's All-American game.
“Portis is obviously a talent,” Anderson said. “He gives us some size and not only size, but size that can play. I like his work ethic and his mindset. He's a humble kid that has worked extremely hard to become one of the elite basketball players in high school basketball.
“Moses Kingsley who is going to be a specialist coming in, a shot blocker and rebounder. Offensively he will continue to develop and will be an outstanding player in our program in time.”
Anderson admitted excitement over those two guys who should help protect the rim and rebound, but also talked about future recruiting.
“As I have said, we're always recruiting,” Anderson said. “You never stop recruiting. I've been in this business long enough to understand that standpoint. When you talk about scholarships that we have available when that time comes all that stuff will work itself out. Recruiting is so critical especially here at this time.”
Much speculation about recruiting this spring has centered on the fans wanting to know about a point guard. This year, Anderson kind of had a point guard by committee.
“The ideal situation is you have someone who takes charge,” Anderson said. “To me leadership is something you earn. It takes time. Someone who comes in who has been doing it for awhile takes charge.
“Do we have someone on campus who can do that? We may. Do we bring someone in who can do that? I think the success of all the good teams I've been associated with they have had good guards who earned that leadership role. They did it through whether it be practice, they were vocal and they were winners. To me that's the mindset. Part of that you are born with and part of it is developed.”
Anderson is recruiting some guards and given that he feels leadership is earned, would a player signed in April be able to earn enough respect from his teammates to be a leader in the coming season?
“They've got to be around,” Anderson said. “If anybody comes in at that point and time they've got to be around over the course of the summer.
“Acclimated and get to know our guys. I think no question about it they would have the opportunity to earn it. When Corey Beck came in from day one you knew it. The way you knew it was all the things he did on the floor, off the floor and constantly talking about everything involving the team. Everything about how hard we are going to work. Everything about winning, that's all he talked about. How hard we were going to work and winning as soon as he got here. The other guys saw what he brought to the table. He brought a level of toughness that is hard to teach....you are born with it.”
***Anderson said no player has told him he doesn't plan to return next season. Rumors have had players already talking to coaches at other schools, but Anderson said no player has talked to him about leaving at this point.
***When asked about B.J. Young and Marshawn Powell leaving early for the NBA Draft or to play overseas, Anderson said he plans to talk to both when they return from spring break. He said he doesn't deal in speculation. Much speculation has been out there that both have played their last game at Arkansas.
***Anderson said the coaches in the SEC have to use the meeting in Destin (Fla.) in May to figure ways to get more SEC teams in the NCAA Tournament. Anderson said the SEC was a tougher league than the national perception out there. Anderson also acknowledged he's aware of SEC teams struggling on the nation stage in both the NIT and NCAA Tournament, but said it was still a tougher league than most think.