Where Are The Bigs?
It may seem like nothing is going on with the Arkansas basketball team's quest for a couple of "bigs" in the 2012 recruiting class, but Razorback associate head coach Melvin Watkins stresses that is not the case.
"We are trying to identity the best players left out there on the market and there are some that can come in and help us do what we need to do," Watkins said. "Our fans have to trust that we know what we are doing and we are going to get the best players that fit this system and play the way we need to play."
The Razorbacks signed three players in the November early signing period in 6-8 Jacorey Williams of Birmingham (AL) Central Park, 6-5 Michael Qualls of Shreveport (LA) Huntington and 6-4 Memphis Bartlett shooting guard Anthlon Bell.
Qualls is averaging 17 points, 10 rebounds, 5 blocks for Huntington (32-4) and had 34 points – including 7 dunks and 4 3-pointers – in his team's 90-45 thrashing of Leesville earlier this week in the Class 4A playoffs.
"When I get in that zone, I have to wear the Arkansas Razorbacks on my shoulders as well as our name," Qualls told the Shreveport Times earlier this week. "We trying to win state; it's my last year. We're trying to get it done."
Bell is averaging 21 points per outing for Bartlett (25-3), who just won its first district tournament title in over a decade.
Williams is averaging 27 points and 11 rebounds per game this season for a 13-2 team that will try to win a third straight national Christian School title.
The trio have combined to lead their teams to a mark of 72-7.
"When we identify the type of kids that you want into our program, you have the academic component and that's a given, but we also want winners," Watkins said. "We want guys that understand what a winning locker room is all about.
"Fortunately the three young men that we have coming in are having great seasons, winning seasons and we think that will help down the road as they come here and get in our locker room," Watkins said. "They'll learn about the sacrifice you have to make to get Razorback basketball to where we want it to be."
Arkansas will obviously add back in 6-7 junior Marshawn Powell, who was averaging 20 points per game before going down with a season-ending injury just two games into the season.
That leaves two open scholarships for next season – ones that Watkins says that Arkansas is intent on filling and not saving after a season in which they have had just eight healthy scholarship players for the last month or so.
The late signing period is April 11-May 16 with Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson looking to fill out his roster.
"We want 13 able bodies because our system requires maximum effort," Watkins said.
Two prospects that have mentioned they are being recruited by Arkansas are 2011 signee Aaron Ross (6-8, 230) – now at prep school in Milwaukee – and Hargrave Military Academy's Ryan Taylor (6-7, 210).
Ross was recently named to the National Prep Invitational All Tournament squad while Taylor had a triple double of 21 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists last month.
It's no secret what an undersized Razorback squad needs to add for next season.
"Size is obviously one of those areas that we have identified," Watkins said. "We have got to get some big bodies. But we would like for our fans to understand that size for us can be a 6-7 or 6-8 player because of the way we play.
"It doesn't have to be 6-9 or 6-10 – although we would like some of that size – but it doesn't help us to have a 6-10 kid that can't play like we need to play," Watkins said.
"A lot of times you are out, you get the question of ‘are you looking at 7-footers and 6-11 kids?' Yes, we are, but we just want everyone to understand we need the kind of player that helps us win ballgames and that might not be a kid of that height – especially if he does not play that big."
Usually at this point in the season there would be more names circulating than what there is presently.
"We go about things a little different than most programs," Watkins said. "The reason being is because if we start leaking out some names, people all of a sudden think we want that kid.
"We may be looking at a kid and haven't made a true evaluation on a kid," Watkins added. "But if you've got his name, everybody is assuming that we are recruiting that kid."
"But we are about getting the right pieces to go with what we need here," Watkins continued. "I can promise you that we have looked at a lot of different kids and some of the kids we have looked at, we have decided to not go on."
Arkansas got the three signees in the early period, but missed out on a trio of big-time prospects and difference makers in Sylvan Hills' Archie Goodwin (Kentucky), Texas prep 7-foot center Prince Ibeh (Texas) and rugged Memphis power forward Jarnell Stokes (Tennessee).
Watkins understands that the fans – especially with the Razorbacks having lost five of their last six games – want to hear about more help on the way.
"It will start smoothing itself out once we get this foundation laid," Watkins said. "I know our fans would like to know a little bit more about our recruiting, but it is just one of those things where NCAA rules limit you on what you can say.
"With the internet now, it usually gets out who you are recruiting and we try to do our due diligence to make sure they are the type of kids we want to bring on this campus to be a part of the Razorback Nation," Watkins added.
Watkins cautioned that Arkansas' basketball program – just like Bobby Petrino's football one – looks at how a player will fit more than how many stars he has by his name.
"Because of the rankings, a lot of people base how good you are recruiting off of that," Watkins said. "People always want to know what is he ranked? They may not even ask you how good he is, they just want to know what he is ranked.
"So the fan base will usually associate a player by how many stars he has by his name," Watkins said. "Some of that you can do, but there are some good players out there for whatever reason that may have been under the radar or just coming into their own."
Watkins offered up the staff's body of work at Missouri as evidence.
"I won't forget that when we got to Missouri, we got some guys that were just three stars," Watkins said. "Those kids ended up helping us win a bunch of games and getting to the Elite Eight. And then all of a sudden, you (the fans) like those kids."
Missouri is now 25-3 this season , ranked third nationally and heading into a huge Saturday game at Kansas, where a win would put them in the Big 12 driver's seat for a conference championship.
The Tigers' tallest starter is 6-8 Ricardo Ratliffe, who ironically chose to sign with Missouri over Arkansas – in part due to academic issues - and played a year for and Anderson before the coach left the Tigers to coach the Razorbacks.
"That is a pretty good barometer," Watkins said. "Quite honestly some of those players weren't so highly recruited kids, but they were good basketball players. They needed to be seasoned and you have the chemistry they have and the senior leadership and they know what it is all about.
"They are a tough, tough team to beat now and we plan on doing the same thing here," Watkins said.
Watkins also talked about learning what Arkansas truly had before learning what it truly needed.
"It was important once we got here – and Coach Anderson was the one who said we have to slow down in the recruiting process – because we don't know what we have," Watkins said. "We have had that opportunity now to see where we are. Now we have a better feel for the pieces that we need to bring in to shore up some weaknesses.
"Normally you might come into a program and play behind some upper classmen and really see what it is all about," Watkins added. "But we have had to throw some young guys into the fire. On the back end, that should pay dividends going forward, but right now it has been hard for some of these kids to come in and learn how hard you have to practice every day.
"As we bring in some new pieces, we are looking at junior college kids as well as high school kids to try and fill some of the void that we have with the group we have returning," Watkins said. "We are going to get there sooner than later. There is no doubt about that."
Arkansas associate head coach Melvin Watkins looks on as Razorback head coach Mike Anderson voices his displeasure over a call.
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