Coaches Corner: Stan Heath

Coaches Corner is a regular feature sponsored by the Arkansas Toyota Dealers. This edition is a Q&A with Arkansas basketball coach Stan Heath.

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Coaches Corner:

Hawgs Illustrated: It's been 16 months since you became head basketball coach at Arkansas. Tell me your biggest surprise since coming to the Ozarks.

 

Stan Heath: It's not even close … it's been the fan support. It's better than I could have imagined. I was told about it, but it's been amazing. We've talked about that as a staff. It's much better than we expected. I think you expect things to be good when you are winning, but our fans stuck with us all of last year and in some games when we didn't play too well.

 

I had heard about Bud Walton Arena. Some who had played here told me it was a great building with great fans. I just know that I haven't even seen the top of it yet. I can only imagine how the fans are going to be when we win 20 games.

 

The other thing that surprised me was that I didn't expect to struggle to the extent we struggled last year. I just know that when we get our team to the level of the fans, it's going to be fun around here. I've been out to Razorback Clubs, and the most common thing I've heard from fans is one simple statement, "Coach, you haven't seen nothing yet from the fans."

 

Hawgs Illustrated: When you were hired, in your first interviews, you talked a lot about the style of play you would coach. However, last year, the scoring was low and the pace was slow. Will that change?

 

Stan Heath: Without question, I want us to be up tempo. At the same time, as a coach I want us to play to our strengths.

 

There are two main areas that have to improve for us to be up tempo. First, we must make getter decisions with the ball before we can be more aggressive on offense. Second, we must have better depth with our ball handlers.

 

We made far too many turnovers last year. We were making so many turnovers that we tried to slow down a little to take care of the ball a little better.

 

And, we just had one point guard. He was a freshman and our next best ball handler was a freshman, too. If you play faster, you must play more at guard. We didn't have the guards or the experience to do that.

 

I think we will be much better ball handlers this year. We add Ronnie Brewer and he's kind of a point forward. And, we get Chuck Tatum back. He's got experience and he's a point guard. Chuck handles it very well.

 

And, we should have better finishers with Ronnie Brewer and Olu Famutimi. Both of those players will give us a better opportunity to run. With Ronnie, people can double Eric Ferguson on the outlet and stop the running game. That happened a lot last year. We'll have some instances where Ronnie gets the defensive board and starts the outlet himself.

 

But, more than anything, we will be more experienced. We were just so young last year. I thought it best to slow that team down because of the inexperienced. And, when you slow down, you become passive and don't take your best opportunities. We had that happen, too.

 

It's tough when your guards are being asked to make adjustments every game to different situations and they are all freshmen. It's different from game to game. It was tough on them last year. They were having to make adjustments and try to do it against the kind of athletes you see each game in the SEC. They hadn't played against that kind of athletes before.

 

I was pleased to have those guards, but you also have to realize that they were not highly rated coming here. None of them were in the top 50 in the recruiting services. I don't think they were even in the top 100. They came here and they were thrown into the fire. That is good now, but it wasn't so good for them last year.

 

I am amazed at the way Jonathon Modica has developed. He's come a long way from this point last year. He's got a swagger about him now. He has really gotten his body into great condition and much stronger and developed a shot. He's got a chance now to take it to a higher level. He's better and more prepared for the SEC than he was at this time last year.

 

Hawgs Illustrated: How do you expect your young players to perform next season?

 

Stan Heath: I'll say that they are better prepared now both physically and mentally to play in the SEC.

 

We are much stronger. Towards the end of the nonconference schedule last year, we were noticing how much our players were getting beat up just in the course of a game. Every team we played was stronger than us, and that was in the nonconference. We made the decision right there to get in the weight room, even if it wore us down for the SEC schedule and the end of the year.

 

A lot of teams lift during the season, but it's usually light lifting just to maintain a certain level of strength that you built in the offseason. We made the decision to try to gain strength during the season. That's not something you do in a normal setting, but this wasn't normal. We sacrificed last year to get stronger and get a jump on the spring and summer when you make the biggest gains lifting.

 

It's tough to play hard when you are lifting that hard between games. You just wear out. That happened to us at the end. But, if I had it to do over again, I'd do it the same way. We are better right now for having done it.

 

I think it was really tough for those freshmen. Normally, you can let a freshman lift hard because they are playing supporting roles. They weren't playing the supporting role. They were our scorers and the central part of our team. Our older players were the supporting players and it was tough on the freshmen.

 

We sacrificed our legs. You could see that at the end of the year we were drained and didn't have anything for the games.

 

Hawgs Illustrated: What players have made the biggest strides as far as gaining strength?

 

Stan Heath: I'd say you can see it in every player, but guys like Rashard Sullivan have really increased their size and strength. Rashard is 235 right now. Wenbos Mukubu is a different player, too. He's gone from 195 to 215. We are quicker and faster in our testing, too.

 

Hawgs Illustrated: How do you see your team changing with the addition of the new class?

 

Stan Heath: Last year, we were one dimensional. We had some guys who could defend, some who could score. We had no one who could do both. There were few players with multiple skills. This year, with Olu and Ronnie, we have two players that have multiple skills. Some of the freshman from last year have gotten better, too, and have more skills in different areas.

 

One of the things we want to become is better passers. We over dribbled last year. We made it easy for teams to defend us. When we tried to run, we dribbled it up. I want to see us pitch it forward on the break. If you pass it up the floor, the break is much tougher to defend. Just in general, and even in the halfcourt, I want us to be more pass friendly and cut out all that dribbling.

 

I want to have two good ball handlers on the floor more of the time this year and that will help us. I think Ronnie is someone that doesn't have to play the point to be an effective passer and ball handler. He'll be a point forward for us this year, I think, and play a lot with Eric Ferguson.

 

 


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