Hogs Sign Big Class

Arkansas coach Stan Heath signed a quartet of big men to give the Hogs a great start to recruiting. The Hogs landed Charles Thomas, Al Jefferson, Steven Hill and Darian Thomas. All were 6-8 or taller.

Arkansas went big with its 2004 basketball recruiting class and scored big on Wednesday's first day of the national signing period by landing two centers and two forwards, all listed among the top 60 players in the nation.

The newest Razorbacks are 6-11, 255-pound center Steven Hill of Branson, Mo.; 6-10, 265-pound forward Al Jefferson of Prentiss, Miss.; 6-7, 230-pound guard/forward Charles Thomas of Jackson, Miss.; and 6-10, 235-pound center Darian Townes of Alexandria, Va.

"It's the first day (of the signing period) and you have to have everything fall into place," head coach Stan Heath said. "We're really excited about the players we're adding to our team. When we put this group with the team we have coming back, we could win some games in the layup line through the intimidation factor.

"Steven was the first to commit and the first to draw a tremendous about of attention," Heath said. "When Al jumped on board, everybody said ‘Wow! Arkansas is going to be back where they were.' Some recruits thought he would command too much attention, but from our end, it's all good."

Hill averaged 18.0 points, 9.0 rebounds and 7.0 blocked shots a game as a junior at Branson and earned Nike All-America honors after being rated one of the top 20 players at the Nike Camp. Rated the No. 33 overall prospect and the No. 7 center in the nation by TheInsidersHoops.com, Hill averaged 20.0 points, 9.3 rebounds and 6.3 blocked shots as a sophomore.

"Steven was a dream recruit," Heath said. "He's a high-profile recruit but he didn't want any attention. At 7:05 this morning, he was signed, sealed and delivered. I'm really pleased with his progress. He's bulked up to 255 pounds, he's a good student and he's a model citizen."

Listed as the best high school shot-blocker in the country by Bob Gibbons' All-Star Sports, he broke the blocked shots record at the U.S.A. Basketball Sports Festival at Colorado Springs, Colo., last summer competing against 50 of the top players in the nation. The left-hander, who played AAU ball for the Arkansas Wings, chose Arkansas over Kansas and Missouri.

Jefferson is rated the No. 1 power forward in the nation and the No. 3 overall prospect by TheInsidersHoops.com, and the No. 2 center and No. 7 overall prospect by Rivals.com. He averaged 37.0 points, 18.0 rebounds and 6.0 blocked shots a game in leading Prentiss to the Mississippi Class 3A state title. In the championship game, he scored 45 of his team's 59 points, and had 21 rebounds and eight blocked shots against Corinth High School.

"We're really excited to welcome him into the family," Heath said. "He is a phenomenal talent. He's a man-child and he's hard to handle. He has the chance to command double and triple-teams, and that will open up things for his teammates."

Jefferson, who averaged 28.0 points, 13.0 rebounds and 4.0 blocked shots as a sophomore, chose the Razorbacks over Alabama, Florida, Mississippi State and LSU, among many others.

Last summer, he led the Jackson Tigers to the AAU national championship in the 16-and-under division.

"There's a lot of talk about what (Jefferson) will be doing next year," Heath said. "It's early, but right now we're planning on having Al here and he's planning on being here. Decisions will be made at the end of the season and we want what's best for Al."

Thomas, a Nike All-American after being rated one of the top 20 players at the Nike Camp, is the No. 45 overall prospect in the country and the No. 13 power forward according to TheInsidersHoops.com. He is also rated the No. 15 power forward and No. 56 overall prospect by Rivals.com. An AAU teammate of Jefferson, he averaged 14.3 points and 7.4 rebounds as a junior at Lanier High School after averaging 17.0 points and 8.0 rebounds as a sophomore at Callaway High.

"He was the last player to make his commitment, but he's a very valuable piece of the puzzle," Heath said. "He's a small forward for he's the only guy who has the ability to play on the inside and the outside. He can score, make shots from the perimeter and play defense. He has great size and will bring intensity to our defense. With the other guys we brought it, he saw the opportunity to play outside. He will create matchup problems with his size and athleticism."

Nicknamed the "Manimal," Thomas, who is projected to play small forward for the Razorbacks, is back at Callaway for his senior season. He chose the Hogs after also considering Florida State, Penn State, Georgia and Ole Miss.

Townes committed to Georgetown when he was a high school sophomore at T.C. Williams High in Alexandria, Va. He played as a junior and senior at Archbishop Carroll High in Washington, D.C., and is at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., this year.

Townes, who averaged 13.8 points, 11.0 rebounds and 8.0 blocked shots a game as a senior, chose Arkansas over Georgetown, Virginia and George Washington. Following his senior season, he was rated the No. 59 prospect in the nation by Hoop Scoop, No. 62 by TheInsidersHoops.com, No. 64 by FutureStars, No. 81 by Prepstars and No. 87 by Bob Gibbons' All-Star Sports. He was also rated the No. 18 power forward in the country by TheInsidersHoops.com.

"Darian has a nice overall package," Heath said. "He has a good low-post game, he runs the floor and he has a mean streak. He can also play inside or outside."

As a junior, he averaged 16.0 points and 11.0 rebounds. As a sophomore, he set the Virginia state record of 183 blocked shots, breaking the previous mark held by Alonzo Mourning. He had a high of 16 rejections in one game.

Arkansas assistant Ronny Thompson recruited Townes for Georgetown before joining UA's staff in June.

"This is a great day for the Razorback program," Heath said. "The future is exciting with the size we're adding to our team. Each one has the chance to make a major impact. I expect this class, with our previous class and our returning players, to be the foundation to lead us to a championship."

The Razorbacks lose 6-8 senior Billy Pharis off the front line from this year's team and the only other inside players are 6-9 junior Michael Jones, 6-8 sophomore Rashard Sullivan and 6-10 freshman Vincent Hunter. UA's only other senior losses off this year's squad will be guards Charles Tatum and Jamar Blackmon.

Arkansas Basketball Signees

Steven Hill 6-11/255/C Branson, Mo. Nike All-American, No. 7 center/No. 33 overall (TheInsidersHoops.com)

Al Jefferson 6-10/265 /F-C Prentiss, Miss. No. 1PF/No. 3 overall (TheInsidersHoops.com); No. 2 C/No. 7 overall (Rivals.com)

Charles Thomas 6-7/230/G-F Jackson, Miss. No. 45 overall (TheInsidersHoops.com), No. 56 overall (Rivals.com)

Darian Townes 6-10/235/C Alexandria, Va. No. 59 overall (Hoop Scoop), No. 62 overall (TheInsidersHoops.com)

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