Until – or maybe the proper word is unless - he hears that Razorback basketball stars Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls are doing something different, Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson is working under the assumption they will be around for the 2015-2016 season.
It’s one that he is very excited about after finishing 27-8 this season, finishing second in the SEC regular season and conference tournament and getting to the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament after an absence of seven years from the Big Dance.
“We'll continue to move forward,” Anderson said Friday at his post-season press conference. “I love what we have coming back. I think we've just got to continue to have the humble and hungry mindset. What we did this year was good, but that's not where I want to go. I want to go further than that.”
That certainly will be much easier to do if both Portis and Qualls – the SEC’s highest-scoring duo – return to lead the effort.
“I think the biggest part is Bobby enjoys being a college student and Mike does as well,” Anderson said. “These guys grew together, they have got a strong bond and as they finished out the season they have a bad taste in their mouth losing to a North Carolina team that we really felt like we were ready to play and if we take care of the basketball a little bit better and rebound the basketball a little bit better who knows? You guys might still be covering us playing.”
The college early entrant withdrawal date in April 12.
“I look at it as part of the recruiting process,” Anderson said. “When I go in that home and sit there with those parents and talk about looking out for the best interests of their son, this is no different. Hopefully, I'm going to be true to who I am.
“That is I'm going to get as much information for them as I possibly can, and then they can make the decision. It's like he made the decision to come here. Then they'll make that decision.”
Portis is viewed as a top 15 to 20 pick if he decides to apply for the NBA draft.
“Obviously, when you look at the growth, not necessarily just basketball, but I think from a man standpoint, Bobby has grown quite a bit,” Anderson said. “Now, is he ready to take that next step? That's a decision that he and his parents are going to have to make.
“But it's important for me, with the input I'm going to have, is to provide them with all the information, all the resources that I have so they can make the right decision. That's part of the recruiting process.”
Anderson realizes that he could be working against his own success.
“How hard is it? To me, it's not,” Anderson said. “To me, it's the right thing to do. If he makes the decision to be here, that's great. If he doesn't and moves on, he's part of my family and I'm wishing him the best.”
Qualls improved his stock nationally, scoring over 15 points in each of his last points and punctuating that with 27 points and 10 rebounds against North Carolina.
“I felt that was really big for Mike,” Anderson said. “He started the conference off kind of OK. There were some games in there where he kind of disappeared. But to see him step up when it mattered the most, that's a sign of a guy that's growing up.
“You look back at his conference season last year, it was not very good. So to see him come back this year and finish strong … It's all about finishing, and I thought he finished strong.
“To me, that's the mark of guy who's making some tremendous, tremendous improvement. Second-team all-conference.
“And we know he's not even reached where he's got a chance to go in terms of his abilities. There's still work to be done with him, and he knows that.
“But I was glad to see him have those breakthrough games, especially when it mattered. The big games. When you get on the big stage, that's when you want to shine, and I thought Mike did a good job of shining.”
Qualls has 13 hours left to finish to get his degree and certainly is not guaranteed to be taken in the two-round NBA draft.
“Mike's pretty smart,” Anderson said. “Mike has done a good job in the classroom. Mike's done a good job on the floor. He understands the value of an education, but more importantly he also understands the progress he's made. He's far from the player he's going to be. I think there's a lot more room to grow.”
That is certainly the case with the rest of the team – all of whom Anderson said he expects back for next season.
He did say that his staff is staying in touch with recruits just in case either Portis, Qualls or someone else decides to move on.
“It's a balancing act,” Anderson said. “You've just got to continue recruiting. We never stop. Right now those guys are here. That's my mindset, they're here. The day they say they're not here, they're not here. But right now they're here in my mind. We'll continue to recruit like always.
“You never know. Even from day one, when I first got here, there were some guys that were here then by the time we got to May they weren't here. June, they weren't here. You're always recruiting.”
Anderson summed up the 2014-2015 season.
“In reference to the season, a lot of positive things took place this year,” Anderson said. “The team did a lot of firsts since the 90's when a lot of winning was taking place here. So from an improvement standpoint, we talk about improving each and every year we won 22 games last year we won 27 games this year.
“We talked about there were a lot of close games last year where we almost got it done. Well, this year those almosts turned into victories, especially going on the road. We talked about defending the home court early on in my tenure here. I thought we did a pretty good job with that and then we talked about taking the show on the road.
“This year a lot of good things took place that gave our guys a lot of confidence and that's why I say there were a lot of positive things that took place and I attribute that to our players for believing and being on the same page.
“The egos were not there. They trusted one another. They played for the name on the front of their jersey. Our coaching staff spent a lot of time with our players just trying to instill the confidence them to go out and perform at a high level. For the most part we were pretty consistent throughout the year just finding ways to win.”
Anderson believes the perception of Arkansas basketball has changed.
“Oh, I know it has,” Anderson said. “I know it has. Everywhere you go that's what people are talking about. They're excited. They've seen it, they've experienced it. We talk about the hope coming in. They've had a chance to experience it this year.
“And it was consistent. Our guys did a good job this year. Game in and game out, I thought our guys brought it each and every day. They left it on the floor. If they didn't figure it out, they'd figured it out by the next time they played. Without a doubt I think across the country, basketball is relevant at Arkansas again.”
Anderson also lauded Arkansas’ fans.
“I thought our fans were fantastic,” Anderson said. “They showed up whether we played here or on the road. They made a difference. Even as you go on the road and you go into different venues and you have got some people there, they are with you.
“I always tell our players, 'You are all you've got,' but that wasn't true because we had some fans that were in attendance whether we played on the road. That's the fun thing about it, with this team it didn't matter where we played, they brought it each and every night.”
Anderson said that Arkansas should be in its new Basketball Performance Center by July 1.
“That will be another place for those guys to go and grow as players,” Anderson said.
He also talked about potential foes for next season.
“We’ll have return games to Dayton and Wake Forest, the SEC/Big 12 Challenge and we’re also talking about some other tournaments and things that might come about with TV,” Anderson said.
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