ROME, Italy - There was some grumbling in the fall and spring when Arkansas head basketball coach Mike Anderson failed to land the state's top senior hoops star and also did not land a legit big man for his 2012 recruiting class.
But three games into a four-game Italian tour, one thing is very clear.
That's Anderson landed five newcomers that totally fit his system, play hard every minute and play his way, have amazing athleticism, and appear way better than their star rankings coming out of high school and junior college.
They have left nothing on the court in their three wins over here and it's clear to me that both the depth and fun is back in Arkansas basketball.
"It gives me more depth, it gives me more options and that is an athletic bunch there," Razorback head coach Mike Anderson said. "…I thought they came out and gave us some super, super energy. There were some highlights out there and you were like ‘Whoa, where did that come from?' Their energy level has been contagious defensively. They got after it."
Arkansas will play its last game in Italy Friday at 12:30 CST when it faces All-Star Italy.
Odds are very good that juco transfer forward Coty Clarke (6-7, 225) will sweep the glass again and be one of a dozen players who can lead the break.
Freshman forward Michael Qualls – a true 6-6, 210-pound freak of nature - will provide some high-flying acrobatics that will result in mind-boggling dunks.
Jacorey Williams, another freshman forward that stands 6-8, 205 and brings such versatility to the floor, will likely stuff the stat sheet again.
The two freshman guards – Anthlon Bell (6-3, 180) and diminutive Dee Wagner (5-10, 180) almost assuredly will show off their pure jumper and fearlessness, respectively.
"We can sub in five at a time now and we have got a lot of guys that can get up and down and all can play awesome ball and defense," Razorback junior guard Mardarcus Wade said. "That's what we live by is defending full court. We have got guys with long arms – Coty Clarke and Jacorey – and those guys really get after it."
The Razorbacks have won their three games by a combined 66 points, albeit the last two against a tough Lithuanian foe have been very competitive after a 40-point blowout to begin the tour.
"When we can go overseas and get guys to challenge us like this, it is going to make us just much better," Qualls said. "I need people to put pressure on me to make me better."
Williams was known as a scorer in high school in Birmingham, but knows that is not the key to Anderson's heart.
"He is on all of us tough, every day, day in and day out," Williams said. "He is preaching defense. I love Coach A because he preaches that defense and knows our offense will be okay this year.
"…We all came over here to play hard on defense and we have got after it on D," Williams added.
Arkansas sophomore guard B.J. Young averaged an SEC-best for rookies with 15 points last season, but at times had to carry too much of the scoring load.
Young, who was sporting a Rusell Westbrook post-game look Wednesday night in Florence complete with glasses, is joyful that is not the case this season.
"It's great," Young said. "That's one thing we don't worry about offense this year because we have plenty of guys that can score any given time and get hot for and knock down shots for us.
"We have rebounders, we have got drivers, we have got slashers and all that," Young said. "So we don't worry about that. We know we can put it in the hoop. That's a luxury to have."
Anderson , who will add Oklahoma State transfer guard Fred Gulley eligible in December and also is waiting to hear on the NCAA appeal for immediate playing time for Houston transfer forward Alandise Harris (6-6, 230), summed it up best.
"We have more guys who can do more things," Anderson said. "That is going to make us all happy."
The Razorback basketball team visited the Leaning Tower of Pisa on Thursday.
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