For a variety of reasons, Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said Tuesday that he expects his 2014-2015 version of the Razorbacks to be his best team and have a special season.
“I'm super excited and I feel more comfortable (at Arkansas) than I have ever felt,” Anderson said at a media session coinciding with the official opening of practice. “Probably part of the reason why is the players we have, how they are representing the University on and off the floor if we look at things from a cultural standpoint.
“Some great things are getting ready to happen here on the floor,” Anderson added of his fourth season at the helm of the Razorbacks. “One of the words we use around here is being committed and these guys are committed to the team, they are committed to each other, they are committed to the vision and I think that bodes well as we enter year four.”
One of the big reasons, Anderson is inserting two new point guards into the mix – junior college transfer Jabril Durham (6-1, 185) and former North Little Rock star Anton Beard (6-0, 195) – and those guys will be mentored by one of the best Arkansas point guards in the school's history.
That is Lee Mayberry, who recently joined the staff after a storied college career for the Razorbacks (1988-92) and a solid seven-year NBA career with Milwaukee and Vancouver. Mayberry returned to Arkansas to finish up his degree.
Mayberry is the school's all-time leader in steals (191) and assists (729) and third in points (1,940). He joins the staff in the role of undergraduate assistant.
“Lee is a tremendous addition to our program,” Anderson said. “...Obviously he had a chance to go to the NBA and didn't graduate, but I don't know many jobs that pay $2 or $3 million a year that he had. He has done well, he's raised his family. He has five girls and not one boy.
“He epitomizes what we are all about,” Anderson added. “So he is coming back to finish up his degree and what better position. Our guys dream of having an opportunity to play at the next level and we've got a guy that's done it. One of their own. So he can be there each and every day and impart on them what it takes, number one, and number two is that some guys have the vision that it is just a process that you can jump into, but it's not like that.
“Not only did he play at that level, he actually was a scout for the Golden State Warriors - and I don't know if people know that - for about four years so he knows what it takes,” Anderson continued. “So to have a guy who has played here, and is one of the best to play here, I think it is a big-time plus for our basketball team but more importantly for our guys as someone who can mentor those guys in what it takes.”
Mayberry's wisdom will be imparted every day to Durham or Beard, who neither have played a second of Division I basketball.
“He gets a chance to interact with them each and every day,” Anderson said. “They can come up and talk with him in the office and when they are out on the floor, he'll get a chance to visit with them and just to me – it is the interaction number one.”
Durham played his freshman season at NAIA Lubbock Christian before transferring to Seminole, Okla., State and having a banner junior college season in which he averaged 21 points, 6.7 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game.
Beard, a top 100 prep player nationally, transferred from Little Rock Parkview before his senior season and helped lead North Little Rock to a second straight state title while averaging 19.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists.
He had 29 points and was named the MVP of the Class 7A state tournament after an 89-81 title game win over Springdale.
“The way you are going to get experience is you have to do things,” Anderson said. “I think he can get them to do it the right way. To me, it's another (pair of) eyes on what we are doing, another set of eyes from a guy that has played at the highest level. So he can bring some ideas and things that have worked for him that hopefully help these guys because even when he was not playing, he was around the game.”
Arkansas junior shooting guard Anthlon Bell likes what he has seen from Durham and Beard.
“I feel they are going to fit in perfect,” Bell said. “Jabril is real active and he is best when he is going up and down. Anton, he is all over the court, rebounding, digging in and getting steals and that is something that we need for our basketball team.
“...They have seen how I want to play, how I come off screens,” Bell said. “They even wait to see when I am going to read, if I am going to fade or just curl it. You can tell they have a high basketball IQ.”
Razorback sophomore forward Bobby Portis agrees with those sentiments.
“They will make our basketball team better just because both of them can drive and dump it off to the bigs for easy baskets and they can play defense, too, and pick up full court,” Portis said. “I think in the preseason they have done a great job of driving and throwing it to me, Moses and Trey at the right time. I also think they have done a good job of picking their shots – when to shoot, when not to shoot.”
Bell also likes the fact that senior guard Rashad Madden will be able to concentrate on shooting guard and not have to run the point.
“I feel like that takes a lot of the pressure off Ky this year,” Bell said. “He can focus on just helping the team instead of making decisions where he is always trying to make a home run play – coaches say – instead of just moving the ball around. Him moving off the ball is a benefit for him.”
Anderson likes what he has seen from the point guards so far, but knows that the learning curve is about to get amped up.
“They have done well,” Anderson said. “They have done everything we ask of him so know that get a chance to really go though the trials by fire in practice. Because it really picks up. Your work on individual stuff so know we are putting all of it together...That means there is going to be some serious competition.”
Arkansas has two exhibition games with Central Oklahoma on Friday, Nov. 7 and Pittsburg State on Thursday, Nov. 13 with the season opener at home against Alabama State on Sunday, Nov. 16.
Mayberry On Board To Help Point Guards
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