Duo's Decisions Will Determine Direction
The optimistic are counting on Arkansas sophomore forward Bobby Portis and junior guard Michael Qualls returning.
They combined that with the additions of Top 55 players nationally in Columbia, Mo., Hickman guard Jimmy Whitt (6-4, 170) and Huntington, W.V., Prep power forward Ted Kapita (6-9 240) and redshirting shooting guard Dusty Hannahs (6-4, 210) and that segment is dreaming of a special, special year.
The pessimistic fans feel like Portis and Qualls already have one foot each out the door and because of that the team will struggle to make a second consecutive Big Dance.
If that is the case, then I certainly believe it would take a max effort from those who will be on the roster to make it back to the NCAA Tournament.
The realistic ones are just taking a wait-and-see approach to see what happens with Portis and Qualls and love what they see and hear on the three newcomers.
Personally, I remain inclined to believe that both Portis and Qualls will be back.
In large part because while I listen to what they say, I don’t parse every word that the duo says – whether it be talking about being one of the greatest Razorbacks ever or saying no comment.
I believe both will be back simply because I trust the people that I talk to - in and around the program - and my conversations with the players themselves to make a solid assessment based on that.”
Portis was all over place in his thoughts after Saturday night’s 87-78 loss to North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.
He had this emotional response after he first got back to the locker room:
"I'm leaning toward coming back just because we lost, and I hate losing,” Portis said. "I don't want to end my Razorback career as a loser.
"I don't even want to take this jersey off right now. I have to wait a whole 200 days just to put it back on. That hurts me. I love the Arkansas Razorbacks. I want to be a Hog forever.”
Portis is generally regarded as a Top 15 to 20 selection in the 2015 NBA draft should he decide to announce to head that way by the April 12 deadline.
There are plenty of good reasons to leave - $$$ being the biggest one – and in the end that could be very well what Portis decides is the best course of action for he and his mom Tina Edwards.
But having known Portis for quite awhile now, I truly believe he wants to be considered one of the greatest players to ever play here. It’s something that he has articulated on more than one occasion.
“I want to be the greatest Razorback of all time,” Portis said. “I want to beat my mentor out – Corliss Williamson as him being the Arkansas son. I want that to be me when I come back in 20 years or when I am 45 years old.
“I want them to say Bobby Portis, son of Arkansas.”
He is aware of the heights that he and Qualls could lead the Razorbacks to next season.
“For us to lose this year in the round of 32, there is no telling what we can do next year,” Portis said. “That’s the biggest thing at this moment is for us looking forward to next year, what we can possibly do next year.
“If I come back, our team could possibly be a Top 10 team and that is something that I want to do even more."
Portis, who said he wants to do the right things for his family and the Razorbacks, talked about this season and putting Arkansas back on the national map.
“No doubt, you know,” Portis said. “Our guys were in and out of the rankings and (except for) two or three weeks, we were ranked in the Top 25.
“That helped out our program, helped out our fans jump back on the ship, because there when times when our fans didn’t care about basketball and weren’t coming to the games.
“I think next year there will be 19,500 in there,” Portis said of Bud Walton Arena.
Portis was asked if he thought Arkansas could challenge Kentucky next year.
“Kentucky is not going to be the Kentucky they were this season,” Portis said. “Congrats to them. They are what – 36-0? I don’t think nobody will beat them this year, but next season will be a different story.
“They won’t have those guys next year. They are all going to be in the NBA next year so it is going to be a different story next year.”
Qualls seems to agree.
“Arkansas basketball is back on the map,” Qualls said. “…One of the biggest things we wanted this year was that we didn’t want anybody to sleep on us.
“I feel like we woke up the nation even thought we lost this game. Everybody knows that we have players here, good players, and a good style of play. We just fell a little short this year.”
There is no doubt that he could improve his game and raise his draft stock if he returns to Arkansas, but he is a dad and that’s a dynamic that factors into the equation as well.
When asked directly if he is coming back, Qualls said “no comment” with a stern look on his face.
It would be easy to take that as a declaration that he is gone and certainly in a vacuum that is a realistic assumption.
Qualls spoke to students at his old high school in Huntington on Thursday and said that he would talk to his family for a couple of days and then finalize his decision.
Once again, it’s the people in and around the program that I trust – ones that are smiling instead of frowning when discussing the issue - that believe that both will return.
I’m just going to trust their "intel" and just kick back and see what happens.
Michael Qualls, Bobby Portis.
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