Arkansas head basketball coach Mike Anderson touched on a variety of topics - including the addition of Scotty Thurman as an assistant and Moses Kingsley's decision to return for his senior season - at a Thursday press conference.
There's no doubt that Arkansas head basketball coach Mike Anderson is feeling pretty good about the latest developments in his program and where it is headed in the future.
In fact, it almost seemed as if he issued a guarantee about the NCAA Tournament while talking about the health of his program during his Thursday morning press conference.
"So when you talk about recruiting, you talk about the guys coming back, you talk about the guys that are graduating, you talk about the APR, you talk about all the things that are taking place in our program, the next step is next year I am trying to win a national championship.
“It is a given that we are going to be in the tournament. That’s a given so that is going to be our quest this year.”
Asked to clarify if he was forecasting a definite spot in the Big Dance, Anderson talked about it being more of a mindset than a guarantee.
"What I said is, my goal is to win a championship every year," Anderson said. "OK? So in my mind, getting to the tournament, that's a given. Does that make sense? You know, this year? My mindset (last season) was, we're going to the tournament. Because my mindset is to win a championship. That's every single year.
"Now, let's get back to the things we can control. That's why the trip to Italy (Spain) I think is going to be big for this team. So we can build the bond with this basketball team. It's amazing sometimes how things happen.
"At Missouri, the year we went to the Elite Eight, we had the same scenario. I actually had to suspend some guys. I suspended four guys and all of a sudden, that group became the core guys. J.T. Tiller, DeMarre Carroll. Even my son, Michael Jr.. Then that next year, those guys, they had a bond, when the new guys came in and it all kind of went together.
"Sometimes adversity, it's how you deal with it. I've been at it long enough to understand that part of it. But one thing you can't do, is don't panic."
Arkansas was 16-16 last season after going 27-9 and making the NCAA Tournament, but had stars Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls both declare for the NBA draft, incoming freshman Ted Kapita (6-9, 230) unable to gain his academic eligibility and three players suspended or dismissed because of legal issues.
This spring the news has only been positive with the addition of former Razorback great Scotty Thurman as a full-time assistant, an influx of talent from at least eight new players and the decision by All-SEC second team center Moses Kingsley to return for his senior season instead of trying to play professionally.
“I think we are tracking the right direction and we just had a bump in the road and that adversity came as we talked about," Anderson said. "To me the measure is how you deal with it. The measure of a person is how you deal with adversity, how it shapes the man.
“How did we deal with that adversity this past year? I thought we handled it pretty good and I think the payoff is what we are seeing now - the guys that are coming back, the core that we have coming back and we have a Top 20 (recruiting) class on paper.
“Those (new) guys haven’t played a game yet, but on paper it looks good... our job as coaches is to put all of that together."
The addition of Thurman is something that Anderson decided to do after evaluating every aspect of his problem.
"There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about how I can get Arkansas basketball better," Anderson said. "So as I set back and evaluated where we were and what we're doing, I wanted to do some shifting and putting some guys in positions where I think it's going to really benefit us. One of those movements is moving up Scotty Thurman into an assistant coach role. Matt Z(immerman) will now be in basketball operations. Jeff Daniels will now be in charge of player development. And so I think it's going to make us even more effective.
"Why I say that, I don't know if people realize when I first took the job here I had no one here on staff at that point in time. I think Scotty was the only one around. He actually went on the road with me to help recruit the guys that we had that first year. I don't think people realize that. And so, I got a feel at that time that Scotty was going to be a tremendous coach. My instincts told me that.
"And so now you look five years beyond that .. he's been involved in on-campus recruiting and really - you know - and I've seen a guy I know will go out and -- who can sell our program better than a guy that lived it, that played it?"
Thurman was happy to get the opportunity.
"I am very excited about the opportunity," Anderson said. " Obviously I have know that it’s a huge task and it’s my first time doing it but I am very, very excited about it."
Thurman has already been on the road for a month and was the lead recruiter on spring signee Brachen Hazen.
"It’s been pretty good," Thurman said. "I have had the opportunity to have contacts with some people that I learned the business from and compete against as a player and had the chance to know some of them as well in the business world. I am really excited about continuing and trying to establish relationships on the high school level and AAU level as well as recruiting level."
He was known as a very calm player who came through in the clutch and feels like he will be that way as a coach as well.
"I don’t really get nervous, now obviously having played here and having the opportunity to work here and being able to set the foundation for what we are trying to do, I wouldn’t say I am having qualms," Thurman said. "But obviously you know there are always going to be some nerves every time I played in a big game or had to go and speak in front of a group. There always will be butterflies but once those go away there is a big job to be done and I am prepared to do the job. "
Thurman has had opportunities to coach in high school and college, but decided he would wait until he got a chance at Arkansas.
"I have had several opportunities at the high school level and collegiate level but I am different than most guys in my heart is here," Thurman said. "I am a Razorback. And forever I will always be. There’s reason I have never left this state or have any intention to. This is the university that’s home to me that took a young man and helped make him a productive citizen and it’s something that I want to help others do and have the opportunity to experience."
The fact that Kingsley (6-10, 230) - who had out his name in the NBA Draft - is coming back is a big plus for Arkansas according to Anderson.
"I think the communication and the openness, the transparency I think was very evident I think for Moses," Anderson said. "And I think it's all about trust there and he knows we're looking out for his best interest and not necessarily just basketball. But obviously he has a chance to have a career doing something he enjoys doing and he's 12 hours away from getting his degree as well.
"So when you talk about sweating obviously after what took place last year you never know,...what's going on because there's a lot of people in these guys ears. Just think about it...and they probably get more access to them than I do. I mean you got people whether it be cousins, runners, agents trying to them you got people in there ears telling them all the possibilities of things. And that took place with Moses. I'm going to tell you that and so as a coach there is no question about it and the more time and the longer it goes on you even get more worried."
Kingsley worked out for the Boston Celtics and had workouts with teams scheduled, but chose to end the drama.
"That's why I was really proud of Moses, because he could have probably gone and worked out for four or five more NBA teams," Anderson said. " But at the end of day I think, as he said, I want to wear that Razorback uniform one more year, my senior year. And hopefully have one of the best years he possibly can.
"And I don't think that would happen if the environment, the culture, wasn't where it is right now. We know he's going to have a big impact in what takes place with our team."