Two assistant coaches who helped Arkansas' basketball program get to the elite of college basketball world will match wits as their own bench bosses Friday night in North Little Rock.
They're Houston's James Dickey – an Arkansas native who toiled under former Razorback head coach Eddie Sutton from 1981-85– and Mike Anderson – who was a 17-year aide for Nolan Richardson.
Both the Razorbacks (2-0) and Cougars (2-0) have reason for optimism in the early season as the two former Southwest Conference rivals clash for the first time since 1991 in a 7 p.m. game at Verizon Arena that will be televised by Fox Sports Net.
"The traveling Razorbacks are coming to Central Arkansas," Anderson said. "To me that is the uniqueness of Arkansas…It's a home game. It's an atmosphere that is tremendous. We have a great atmosphere here at Bud Walton Arena, but I think when you down there the fans are anxious to see the Razorbacks. All my memories are great, great memories of going down there. Our guys will get a chance to go away and get a chance to play in a different arena."
Anderson was 5-0 against Houston while the head coach at UAB and the Razorbacks have a 16-11 advantage in the all-time series between the two.
Arkansas has been led in the first two games by junior forward Marshawn Powell (20.5) and the floor game of 6-3 sophomore point guard Rickey Scott (10 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds and no turnovers in 91-68 rout of Oakland).
Houston comes into the contest after downing Grambling State 88-42 and Utah Valley State 84-71.
"I'm pleased that we're 2-0 and getting better, and now we have a chance to go on the road and play Arkansas," Dickey said. "We certainly need to learn from this and get better, and it will certainly be a great atmosphere on Friday night in Little Rock."
Dickey, who has never coached against Arkansas, thought his team responded well to a challenge from Utah Valley State, who hung around with the Cougars for awhile.
"When we really had to lay down and play defense and take care of the basketball offensively (against Utah Valley State), make a big play and rebound, I thought we did that," Dickey said. "I think we'll grow from that."
Sophomore small forward Alandise Harris, the former Little Rock Central star who is now a 6-6, 230-pounder, had 20 points and 9 rebounds in the latter win and is averaging 17 points and 6 rebounds per game.
Harris drew interest from former Arkansas coach John Pelphrey, but was not offered a scholarship in the end.
"He really works on his shot and spends a lot of time in the gym," Dickey said. "For us to take advantage of his athleticism, he has to be an inside-out player."
He joins a starting line-up that also includes 6-3 redshirt freshman guard Joseph Young (18.5), 6-8 freshman forward TaShawn Thomas (11.0, 8.0 rbs), 6-6 guard junior Jonathon Simmons (9.5) and 6-3 senior guard Darian Thibodeaux, who has started 32 straight games.
Thomas is a skilled big man and had 13 points, 8 rebounds. 5 assists, 3 blocks and 3 steals against Grambling and will be a cornerstone of Houston's future along with Young and 2012 signees Danuel House and Danrad Knowles, all top 100 players.
"For a guy that's 6'8-plus, he (Thomas) handles the ball pretty well," Dickey said. "When he touches it a lot of good things happen.
"Did I know he could handle it to this degree against this level of talent?," Dickey asked. " Maybe not that much. But we've worked with him with what we call ‘bust out.' When he gets a rebound, not to give it up, just bring it up because he makes good decisions."
Young is the son of former Cougars star and Phi Slama Jama alum Michael Young, who is now Houston's director of basketball operations.
Junior forward Kirk Van Slyke (6-9, 225) had 18 points against Utah Valley behind a 10-of-11 performance from the free throw line.
He also had nine rebounds to lead the Cougars in the opener.
"He's a big piece of the puzzle," Dickey said.
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