This season won’t go down as the greatest in Arkansas basketball history, but head coach Mike Anderson will look back fondly on the effort given to him by his four seniors.
Anthlon Bell, Jabril Durham, Keaton Miles and Willy Kouassi will all be honored before the Razorbacks (16-14, 9-8) host South Carolina (23-7, 10-7) Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. at Bud Walton Arena.
The game will be televised by the SEC Network.
“Those guys have been great in the community, great at the university,” Anderson said. “We have a couple of guys that are graduating and those other guys (already graduated) are fifth year guys. They have done a great job with our basketball team.
“It’s going to be a big day for those guys and hopefully we will have a packed house here. This team is a fun team to watch. Different nights different guys are stepping up for this basketball team.“
That quartet of seniors has helped Arkansas to four straight wins heading into Saturday with Bell clinching a 62-61 win at Alabama Wednesday night by hitting two free throws with four seconds left.
The former Memphis Bartlett standout has hit 29 free throws in a row, is averaging 15.9 points this season, has hit at least one 3-pointer in every game this season and led Arkansas in 3-pointers made in each of his four seasons.
“You know it's going to mean a lot,” Bell said of his last home game. “It's going to be emotional the beginning doing the ceremony and coming out with your parents. But at the end of the day, we've got to play basketball. We've still got to treat it like it's any other game. It's still a victory we've got to get."
Durham has flourished this season as the starting point guard as one of the nation’s top assist guys (6.2) after playing sporadic minutes in his first season after transferring in from Seminole State Junior College.
“It's kind of surreal, actually, because it doesn't feel like to me that I'm a senior and that my time is up here at Bud Walton Arena,” Durham said. “It's really been a tremendous blessing being here for two years. I just wish I had more time.”
Durham noted that he takes a lot of pride in the fact that Arkansas is riding a four-game winning streak after a disheartening three-game losing skid that included a home loss to Auburn.
"Coach was already instilling it in us, but it was more of a, 'Coach can't do more' type thing,” Durham said. “It was more of an, 'Allright, now we need to step it up. We've got to take it personally.' And it was sometimes getting on guys.
“We have to do that just so people can understand the severity about the time now. Because we were in a tough place when we lost to Auburn. We had a really bad record. So ever since then, we've been turning things around. That's good, but we're not done yet.”
Miles, who started his career at West Virginia, suffered through an injury-plagued junior at Arkansas before coming on and starting 22 games so far this season.
“We're all brothers,” Miles said. “We're going to take our relationships here and keep them for a lifetime. We're all going to be brothers and friends 20 years from now, 40 years from now. It's a family atmosphere here. That's what Coach Anderson has made it. “
Durham lauded Kouassi, a 6-11 graduate transfer from Kennesaw State and someone who started his career at Auburn.
Kouassi had five offensive rebounds in seven minutes in the win over Alabama.
“Willy is the ultimate teammate,” Durham said. “ If he's not playing that much, he doesn't care. Once you get to the bench you can talk to him and he'll tell you what you need to do and help you.
“… If you do something wrong, he's going to tell you on the bench. He's going to cheer you on the whole time. He's the ultimate teammate you could ask for from a senior who's not playing as many minutes as Moses (Kingsley) or a big man like that. But he's still heeling the team when he can.”
Visiting Georgia downed South Carolina 74-72 Thursday night on the Gamecocks’ Senior Night.
Anderson knows that emotion of the festitivies can get to the players.
“It give the fans an opportunity, his family the family to come out and really be presented to the University, to the fans,” Anderson said. “But once the game starts emotions got to wear off. Emotions can only take you so far and so then you got to play the game.
“So my advice to guys always is once the sweat goes lets play basketball. Cause you can get tired and that's what you're going to see. You're going to see some guys get tired real quick early on in the game, maybe like 2 minutes.
“Because the adrenaline is going and then maybe they can go back over and hopefully get a breather there. But I'm sure the players are going to want to play and help the guys go out the right way. To me that's going to be their charge.
“It's a senior night and you always want the senior to go out the right way and but you can’t over do it. I think you can't put too much emotion into it.”