Building The Right Way

In his weekly recruiting column for Hawgs Illustrated, Dudley E. Dawson chats with Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson about his revamping of the Razorback basketball program and his philosophy of building a winning program with horses and not mules.

Asked at SEC Basketball Media Day what was his blueprint for rebuilding the Arkansas program, Mike Anderson summed it up all in two sentences.

"I think you have got to get horses," Anderson said. "You can't do it with mules, man, you have got to get some horses and that is what we are doing."

Indeed Anderson is in the process of totally revamping the team he took over from John Pelphrey less than two years ago.

He has three signees left from the 2011 class, five 2012 ones, two transfers, two better-than-average walk ons and also has commitments from two of the nation's best 2013 big men in Little Rock Hall's Bobby Portis and Huntington Prep's Moses Kingsley– both 6-10, 225.

Portis is regarded as the 15th-best player in the country in Fox Sports Next's 2013 rankings and Kingsley comes in at No. 52. "Recruiting is the lifeblood of any program," Anderson said. "I think you also have to recruit kids which fit what you are doing.

"My philosophy is that when you are building something…you have to go in and change the culture, change the atmosphere to one that is going to be conducive to winning," Anderson added. "Recruiting is going to be the big part of it and you have got to get the right kids."

Anderson chose the analogy of building a house from the ground up to how he is building the Arkansas program.

"It is kind of like building a house brick-by-brick, piece by piece," Anderson said. "If you get the right pieces and you build that house, then I think it is going to stand for a long time."

Anderson was an assistant for Nolan Richardson during the Razorbacks' rise to a national title in 1994 and a return trip to the championship game in 1995.

"We did it the first time we came to Arkansas with Coach Richardson and that's my mindset," Anderson said. "The blueprint is there, but we have to do it and do it the right way – piece by piece.

"We want to be a team that has size and athletic ability, great guard play and we want to play up-tempo basketball," Anderson added. "Versatility is big with me. I like versatile basketball players."

Anderson has built teams as a head coach at both UAB and Missouri, where he left a top five team for Frank Haith and coming to a roster situation that was less than ideal in Fayetteville.

"I always tease Frank Haith and tell him that ‘you cupboards weren't bare when you got there. It was a little different here.'"

Like Richardson, Anderson has always been a big proponent of having players from Memphis on his roster.

He has junior Mardracus Wade and freshman Anthlon Bell and is recruiting several 2014 Bluff City products.

"I have always had a guy from Memphis on my basketball team," Anderson said. "I like Memphis players. I say it everywhere I go. There is just something about those kids. They have a feel for the game, they fit what we are doing when we get the right kids and they are not to far away from Memphis, but are far enough away that they can become who they want to be.

"They can get their education, Fayetteville is a college town so you don't have a whole lot of distractions," Anderson added.

Arkansas landed a ton of players from Memphis during its heyday, starting with landing Ron Huery, who was followed in by future NBA player Todd Day.

That opened the floodgates and led to several Memphis players being on the title team.

"When you look at our national championship team, you have Corey Beck, Dwight Stewart, Elmer Martin – they weren't the marquee names, but they developed and evolved and Corey even played in the NBA," Anderson said. "Those kids epitomize what we are all about – blue collar, hard working, guys that want to win."

Anderson was asked about a coach's checklist when taking over a new program.

"When you come in you have to evaluate your program and what you have their and obviously I think any coach is going to bring in his own people," Anderson said. "He wants that atmosphere to be right and that's why I said changing the culture – getting kids to do the right thing on and off the court.

"Academics are real important to me," Anderson added. "I am product of basketball affording me to get an education. It is something that I don't take lightly with our kids. So that is why they are there and basketball pays for that."

He also has to sell his program to both prospects and fans.

"Selling that vision," Anderson said. "I did the same thing at Missouri – almost every county and every city to spread the word about our program and get people to be interested in our program. Now you have to go about fulfilling that by getting a product that people want to come watch."

He did that at Missouri, whose media question him Thursday about his abrupt decision to leave Columbia to come to Fayetteville.

"When I came there (Missouri) in 2006, one of the things I told them that we are going to build a program that people will be proud of, one that does the right things on and off the floor," Anderson said. "We are going to win ballgames. I don't have any problems with that. We are going to create an atmosphere. I told people to get their tickets because it is going to be one of the hottest tickets around. And I'll say that even at Arkansas.

"So when I look back and reflect about the things that we did, I left them in pretty good shape and I say that from a standpoint – not just me, but my staff – is that we brought in pretty good kids."

Anderson return to Columbia to watch the graduation ceremonies of six players – Laurence Bowers, Marcus Denmon, Kim English, Matt Pressey, Steve Moore and Jarrett Sutton.

"I was there during graduation in May and one of my proudest moments I had was watching those guys walk across the stage," Anderson added. "To me that is what it is all about. I don't get caught up in regret. Hopefully I had an impact on those kids' lives – to me that is what it is all about. The wins, the losses and all those things, a lot of people get caught up in that, but from a coaches standpoint – and me personally – it is about how many lives do you touch and they go on and realize their dreams and they are going to be productive situations."

Anderson believes that is made easier by the NCAA's recent relaxation of some rules involving signed players and prospective ones.

That includes being able to work with the players some during the summer and also being able to bring in juniors for official visits during the spring of their junior year.

"I think they have given us more access to the players in the summer and I think that has been huge," Anderson said. "Whether you get a chance to work with your kids or just be around them. I think that is going to pay dividends even as we talk about kids graduating or even kids getting the right information.

"There are a lot of kids right now that they in a hurry to get to the NBA and now it gives you more time to help them understand what the education process is all about."

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