In a lot of early prognostications for the 2014-2015 , Arkansas basketball team has been slotted as the third best in the SEC behind Kentucky and Florida.
If sophomore forward Bobby Portis and junior guard Michael Qualls – both just back from Nike Elite Camps - have breakout years as some expect, that certainly could be the case.
Especially if the returnees bond with the newcomers, which appears to be the case according to Razorback head coach Mike Anderson.
"I am pretty pumped up about this group," Anderson said on Monday's SEC Summer Teleconference. "More guys are getting what we are doing and the thing I am seeing is that I have more guys spending time in the gym working on their game and they are spending a lot time on their game."
Anderson and his staff have also been able to use summer workouts – the NCAA allows you to have two hours a week for eight weeks – to their benefit.
"I think it has been a big summer for us and I think it tells me about our guys and one thing we are going to be is committed, committed to the team," Anderson said. "I think last summer we had all of our guys up and this year we‘ve got all of our guys up and the workouts have been going pretty good.
"We broke them up into two groups and then we will come back maybe on Thursday and have one group," Anderson added. "…Our returning guys are sitting the stage. A guy like Bobby Portis, Manuale Watkins, Anthlon Bell and Michael Qualls. This guys gave been pretty good at leading these guys at this point and getting them in the gym."
Arkansas, who ranked 21st nationally in attendance last season with an average of 14,202 fans for 19 home games, now has its entire 2014-2015 roster on campus.
"Right now summer is in full effect and we are able to bring all of our guys here on campus," Anderson said. "The last one was (freshman) Nick Babb, who got here last weekend.
"We have had eight weeks of instruction – two hours a week," Anderson added. "We were able to get in and just kind of do some individual stuff and development. It has been good to see the returning guys – eight returning guys - with the new guys coming in as well – five new players coming in with the guys coming in and the guys that sit out last year."
"This is year four and we want to make sure we continue to improve and take it to the next level," Anderson continued. "Obviously you always want to be in the position to have a chance to win the national championship and that means you have to be in postseason play.
"We are getting prepared right now," Anderson added.
Portis has returned from Nike Big Man Skills Camp in New Jersey while Qualls was on his way back Monday from the Kevin Durant Skills Academy in Washington, D.C.
Portis has also been invited to the LeBron James Skills Academy July 9-12 in Las Vegas.
"I think it is a tremendous experience for these guys and I don't know if we have had two guys that have the opportunity to go to two different camps," Anderson said. "Bobby went to the big man's camp and it was pretty positive during his time.
"I haven't had a chance to sit down with him and go point-for-point, but obviously he was pitted against some of the same guys at his position – big guys - and it gave him a barometer of where he is and some of the things that he has got to work on," Anderson added.
"It was a great experience and good exposure for him," Anderson continued.
Qualls saw a big improvement from his freshman to sophomore seasons and Anderson hopes that same jump comes this season.
"Michael is en route of getting back right now," Anderson said. "All signs are that some positive things have taken place for him in terms of getting exposure and playing against some of guys at his position around the country.
"Hopefully it gives them the mindset to come back and really go to work," Anderson added.
Portis is being talked about as a first-round draft choice if he decides to leave after the season.
"We've talked about Bobby coming in and being the best player that he is capable of being and that he wouldn't have the pressure and that he wouldn't be the savior," Anderson said.
"But he was second-team all conference so now – and the thing I like about Bobby is that he wants to be a great player and right after the season he is a gym rat," Anderson said. "He is still dedicated to improving."
Anderson said that Portis is "almost 6-11 now and is still growing."
"Now it is just a matter of getting his body (right) and strengthening his core and getting better from a skill standpoint," Anderson said. "That is something that he is doing each and every day.
"He is going to be a marked guy this year," Anderson added. "People know who Bobby Portis is now.
it is about consistency with Qualls per Anderson.
"I just think there is so much potential with Michael in terms of being consistent if we can get him to be inconsistent in terms of defense, rebounding," Anderson said. "We all know about his athletic ability and now we want to see the other parts of his game.
"I think Mike is a good passer and has a good basketball IQ and the key now is just being consistent," Anderson added. "In conference play he started and was a guy who went through a drought there.
"In order for to make that next step, those are guys that will be would be two key players for our basketball team," Anderson continued.
Anderson was asked if he would like to see Arkansas and Kentucky become permanent rivals on the schedule.
Right now the Razorbacks' only permanent foe is Missouri, but the league is talking about moving that from one to three in the future.
"We have always had great games and when Arkansas was good, Kentucky was good and our league was at its heights," Anderson said. "Hopefully that is what we are getting ready to go into. I would have no problem with that."
Anderson was also asked about the NBA raising the age of eligibility to enter the draft to 20.
"It's something that I would like to see," Anderson said. "I think one year – and it is not against the players – but the one year, the one and done makes a mockery of the college experience. I feel it is probably trending that way and I think hopefully the product that goes to the NBA will be much better and refined and ready to go in and help some teams as opposed to going in there and sitting and waiting.
"It is an interesting dynamic, it is controversial, but at the same time I think baseball has it right," Anderson added. "You either go out of high school or you wait until you are mature enough to go and make a difference."
Anderson Believes Arkansas Is Finally Ready
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