State of Hogs: Dykes Finds Normal

Jimmy Dykes is operating at a fast pace, but it's settling into a normal routine as new Arkansas women's basketball coach.

Webster defines normal as being "mentally and physically healthy." That seems like a normal description for everything Jimmy Dykes does. Organization and attention to detail has always been one of the strengths of the new Arkansas women's basketball coach.

So it was not a surprise when Dykes said he's "settled into the new normalcy" earlier this week, just short of six weeks into his new job at his alma mater.

"The last six months before this (as basketball analyst for ESPN) was at a rapid pace," Dykes said. "And that was normal."

With long stretches on the road, Dykes used face time on his phone to stay linked with his wife and daughter.

"At least now, I'm home," Dykes said. "This job is exactly what I expected as far as (work load). Whirlwind is the best description, but I've enjoyed every minute."

There's been frustrations at all different aspects, like recruiting, budget and scheduling.

"But I knew it would be like that," he said. "I knew it would be fast paced and challenging. But I was at a point where I was ready for new challenges.

"There hasn't been one minute in the last five weeks that I didn't love what I was doing or I didn't know what I was doing. I've settled into the new normalcy. It's on the go from 6 in the morning until 11 o'clock each night. But I've found time to balance things, for family and everything and that's very important. There is time for a lot of communication with my wife and daughter. I take my daughter to school each morning."

Then, he moves on to the new "daughters" in his family, his players on the Razorback team that he inherited. There is enough talent – like senior Calli Berna and sophomore Jessica Jackson – that ESPN pollster Charle Creme to rate Dykes' new team at No. 23.

"We won't run from that," Dykes said. "We'll work like a top 25 team. That's a goal."

The work ethic was the focus as Dykes put his new team through the paces in practices before finals. He wasn't installing offense or defense, but intensity.

"We had six practices," he said. "We didn't even put in any new drills. I wanted to do only stuff that they knew. It wasn't a focus on what, but how. It was about going at full speed, with tempo and intensity.

"When we were done and before they went home after finals, I told them all I couldn't be more proud of them. I think all of them have changed their lives."

Dykes said he's having a blast. He'd never coached in the women's game, it's the same stuff he did when he was an assistant for Eddie Sutton.

"It's still just coaching," he said. "I told my players that I wasn't coaching them like ladies or like men, I was coaching them like basketball players. It's the same verbiage. They are still elite players.

"I don't see anything diferent in a three-hour practice. What I do see is that the players in the women's game are very coachable. There is no sense of entitlement that might be (in the men's game). You are not dealing with players that maybe are only here for one year. I really enjoy them."

Not surprisingly, Dykes has used some of the resources acquired during his long ESPN career. He tapped in on some of the top coaches in the game, including Vanderbilt men's coach Kevin Stallings and Oklahoma's Sherri Coale and Louisville's Jeff Walz from the women's side.

"It's important to find out what I don't know," Dykes said. "I wanted to be 100 percent prepared."

There were no uneasy feelings when he stepped on the practice court.

"From the very first minute on the floor with my players, I had complete confidence in what I was doing," Dykes said. "It was like breathing, something I had always done."

Through the years at ESPN, Dykes had always worked clinics and been in high demand as a speaker.

"I've always tried to continue to learn and that will always be my approach," he said. "If I stop learning, I've got a serious problem."

The Xs and Os have been secondary, but they are about to start.

"I've watched all of our SEC games from last year," Dykes said. "So I'm studying my team, strengths and weaknesses. We'll begin this week with my staff on breaking that down and begin to build our offense and defense.

"What we've been doing so far is more big picture, our attitude, body language."

Dykes wanted some key words from players to describe what they wanted to be as a team. He said the players have given him some.

"I wanted them to set some non-negotiables, decided as players," he said. "They are intangibles and they will stay inside our locker room. It's things we'll hold each other accountable for. I'm pleased with the progress we've made in those areas. We've done a lot there in five weeks"

Dykes had an idea about the talent level on the team from watching parts of "six or seven practices" in the last couple of years.

"I think I saw two games the previous year, but I've been around them a lot," he said. "I would be in the arena preparing for a men's game and they would be out there and I'd watch. Maybe I was getting ready for an ESPN game and they would be finishing a practice. So I knew them."

They were 6-10 last year, losing in the first round of the conference tournament.

"I told them from looking at the tape, they were very close to being 10-6, not 6-10," Dykes said. "But they were also very close to being 2-14. They played a lot of very close games.

"I do know we have a senior point guard in Calli and a first team All-SEC freshman player in Jessica coming back. I also think we have a bunch of women who want to win."

The key is do they want to pay the price.

"I think there are a lot of teams who want to win at the point the ball is tossed up each game," Dykes said. "Everyone wants to then. The critical area is do they want to win in the six month period starting May 27. I'll see. From what they've done so far, I'm pleased.

"So far, they are doing all the right things. I'm pleased with them in the class room. They have conducted themselves in a great way in key areas and I'm around them a lot.

"Five days after I was hired, I sat with them in our room and told them how much I loved them, like I love my wife and daughter, that much. In fact, I told them I loved them so much that I would not let them settle for anything less than what they were capable of as a student or a basketball player.

"That's what love is. I think after six weeks, they understand I love them. I believe that if you ask them if Coach Dykes loves them, I'd be shocked if they said anything else."

It's all a part of the new normalcy.

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