Arkansas’ basketball team may have a tight bond, but it is also more than a little tired of scrimmaging each other in practice.
They’ll get to see some new faces on Thursday night when the Razorbacks open up their two-game exhibition slate with Southwestern Oklahoma State University in a 7 p.m. contest at Bud Walton Arena.
“That is what we have been waiting on really,” Arkansas senior guard Antlon Bell said. “Every day in practice, going against the same people, you get a little agitated and tempers flare.
“We are just ready to go out there and play on Thursday.”
Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson, whose team lost eight players off a 27-9 team that was the SEC runner-up and went to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season, gets that same vibe.
“Like all exhibitions it gives you the opportunity to pay someone other than yourselves,” Anderson said at his Tuesday press conference. “Our guys have really kind of beat up on each other and it almost gets to the point where it gets a little stale.
“It will be kind of refreshing to play somebody other than ourselves and get an idea of the guys more ready to play than others. It gives us an opportunity for feedback and that’s what we want this time of the year.”
SWOSU - a Division II school from Weatherford, Okla. - finished 16-13 lasts season, returns three starters and is picked fifth in the Great American Conference under third-year head coach Bob Battisti.
The Bulldogs are in the same conference as Arkansas schools and GAC preseason favorite Harding as well as Ouachita Baptist, Arkansas Tech, Southern Arkansas, Arkansas-Monticello and Henderson State.
"Playing against an SEC opponent in a big-time venue and atmosphere is a great opportunity for our team," Battisti said. "Our guys will have the chance to compete against a great team and program and it provides us valuable preparation for the season.”
One of their top players is 6-7, 240-pound Ayo Ojo, a former Jonesboro High School player who started his college career at State Fair, Mo., Community College and averaged 7.8 points and 3.8 rebounds last season.
Anderson expects Arkansas will get Southwestern Oklahoma State University’s best shot.
“They are going to get after our guys,” Anderson said. “They are going to come in here and play to win. They have nothing to lose and so our guys have got to get that mindset from day one that anytime you take that floor, it is a big game.
“They are not necessarily playing this Arkansas team, they are playing the Arkansas tradition and that team that won 27 games last year. So you are going to get everybody’s best shot and our guys have to understand the urgency that you have to play with.
“…When the game starts you have to be ready to come out and play. And with having so many guys that have not had a chance to play in those roles, they get a chance to it and hopefully they want to keep those roles.
“I tell them every day that they are auditioning for the show. Well, the show is getting ready to get started.”
Bell and junior center Moses Kingsley both had 27 points in Sunday’s Red-White game while newcomer Dusty Hannahs added 22, 6-10, 255-pound sophomore forward Trey Thompson and freshman guard Jimmy Whitt 19 and senior forward Keaton Miles chipped in 16 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists.
Bell and Hannahs combined to hit 9-of-19 3-pointers on Sunday.
“I felt like we did a good job,” Bell said. “Dusty came out hitting everything. It seemed like everything he put up was going through and something like that is what we are going to need,
“Dusty is a long-range bomber. He can walk in the gym and he is in range already. We are going to need that.”
Junior guard Manuale Watkins had 14 points and 10 assists while senior point guard Jabril Durham had 7 points and 9 assists.
Anderson did not have a starting five ready for the media on Tuesday, but did have some guys he expects to be in starting roles this season.
“I think a guy like Bell, you can pencil him in being a guy that is going to start out,” Anderson said. “I think Moses has been pretty consistent throughout practice and maybe Keaton or Trey, could be either one of those guys.
“I think Jabril has had a pretty good preseason so far, but I can say who actually is going to be there, it could be Jimmy Whitt. You can see his impact.”
He sees Watkins as someone who could either start or come off the bench.
“A guy that I think is going to be a glue guy for our team is a guy like Manuale Watkins,” Anderson said. “…He brings energy, he brings aggressiveness and that is one of the things this team has got to be is one that plays with some toughness. we have got to play with heart and he epitomizes that.”
Thompson is ready to prove the experts and some of his own fans wrong.
“Lot of people around campus have just counted us out so we have got to go out and play with a chip on our shoulders and just show everybody that we are still here,” Thompson said.
“Last season was last season and last season is over. We just have to build off of it going into this season and have a good season.”
The Razorbacks will close out their two-game exhibition slate with Delta State next Tuesday and then open the regular season Friday, Nov. 13 against visiting Southern.
“This is a team that got to play as one and it is a team that has got to play with some big-time grit,” Anderson said. “We may be small at times so we have to have some guys that don’t mind getting in there and banging and grinding and doing whatever it takes to win.”
“You have got to have guys that have that toughness, that have that aggressiveness, the kamikaze-type of guys.”
Arkansas junior Manny Watkins is guarded by his long-time friend and Razorback freshman guard Jimmy Whitt.