It’s a given that Arkansas’ basketball team is not blessed with a lot of height and length this season, but it appears that Razorback head coach Mike Anderson set out to rectify that with his 2016 class.
The class certainly adds some length to the team with all five current members – as well as redshirting forward Dustin Thomas – all between 6-4 and 6-9.
Both Arlando Cook (6-9, 215) and Louisiana prep standout Adrio Bailey (6-8, 205) are signees that will add to the front court and Arkansas also has shown a great deal of interest lately in a pair of big teammates.
That would be the Chambersburg, Pa., Scotland Performance Institute duo of Mali native Cheickna Dembele (6-10, 235) and Serbian-born Alexsandar Zecevic (6-10, 250).
“We certainly wanted to add some size and length to our team and we are still in that recruiting mode looking for the right guys to add,” Razorback head coach Mike Anderson said.
Arkansas assistant coach Melvin Watkins recently went to visit both of the prospects and the Razorbacks will likely see them both play in the National Basketball Championship in Virginia on March 18-20.
“Coach Watkins has done a hell of a job in recruiting these guys and letting them know how wanted they are and how they would love to have them in their program,” Scotland head coach Jareem Dowling said.
“I give him lot of credit. It is easy to fall in love with the athleticism of Cheickna and overlook how good a player that Alexsandar is. I think they would love to go to the same place if they could. They are best friends, roommates and all that.”
Dembele is averaging 20 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks per game while shooting over 50 percent from the field and 80 percent from the free throw line.
He has offers from Iowa State, Missouri, North Carolina State, St. Joseph’s, Charlotte and LaSalle and interest from Arkansas, North Carolina, Syracuse, Georgetown, Maryland and Pittsburgh.
“I’ve always said that Cheickna came to us as a pre-packaged meal and all we needed to do was follow the instructions and not mess it up,” Dowling said. “He is very skilled and just scratching the surface of his talent.
“He can play both the power forward and center and is a kid that really rebounds the ball, has a nice shot and just a really good all-around player.
“The one thing he doesn’t like is cold weather so if it is warmer at your school than at some other place than you have a better shot with him for sure."
Zecevic is averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds a game with offers from Chattanooga, Cleveland State and Hofstra and interest from a lot of schools on the East Coast.
“Alexsandar has a great post up game, but can also really shoot the 3-pointer,” Dowling said. “He is a very skilled guy that has a great all-around game. He is a typical European big that can really shoot the ball.
“But the thing about him that you don’t see a lot is how good he is as a back-to-the-basket guy. That’s a rarity in today’s game, but he is one of those for sure.”
Asked how to pronounce Zeveic’s last name, Dowling hedged.
“Look I have been coaching him for six months now and I still am not sure so I am not going to be able to tell you,” Dowling said. “It is best just to not look silly and call him Alex like I do."
Both of the players will sit down after the upcoming tournament and decide which official visits they want to take.
“I can see them both coming down there to check out Arkansas because of how Coach Watkins has been on top of things,” Dowling said. “I can see us sitting down about three or four days after the tournament is over and getting that all ironed out.”
As far as academics and qualifying, the pair – who both arrived in the country six months ago - are in good shape according to Dowling.
“They are both brilliant kids and there is no issue with their grades and all that,” Dowling said. “We had them take the SAT recently and we expect that back soon, maybe even later this week. We expect them both to have everything they need.”
This is the first year for the Scotland program and Dowling – a former Morehead State, Southern Mississippi and Tennessee assistant coach under Donnie Tyndall - is happy with how things have gone.
“We are 16-10 now after starting off 2-7 and so we have really come on with our play on the court,” Dowling said.
“But the thing that I am most happy with is how these young men have developed off the court. We do our best to provide a great education environment and try to help then become better young men, responsible young men and participate in our community to make it better.
“In terms of that, I think we are undefeated in how things have going and think our program is just going to get better and better."
The spring signing period is April 13-May 18.
“I don’t think they will be ready to sign by the opening of the signing period, but certainly think they will not go too long into it,” Dowling said. “I think they will wrap it up pretty quick after we get our season over.”