Arkansas keeping its recruiting options open

As Arkansas waits to see if prized recruit Al Jefferson will indeed show up or jump to the NBA, Hawgs Illustrated's Dudley E. Dawson discusses what Razorback coaches are thinking in his weekly column for HI and The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas.

While the University of Arkansas basketball coaching staff waits for a definitive answer on whether 6-10, 255-pound Mississippi prep phenom Al Jefferson will be a Razorback or an NBA player next season, it's still working on its back-up plan.

That would be to possibly sign a shooter that is currently a senior in high school or a junior college sophomore.

"We never stop recruiting," Heath said. "I don't think you can ever be successful unless you keep it as the lifeblood of the program. Whether it be underclassman or in this senior class. I am one of those guys that I don't like to be surprised. I always want to keep a back-up plan in place."

Jefferson, still ranked as a lower first-round pick in most NBA mock drafts, will likely have an answer for Arkansas in the next month.

He will play in the McDonald's All-American Game in Oklahoma City on March 31, the Nike Hoop Summit during the Final Four in San Antonio on April 4 and the Jordan Capital Classic on April 17.

"There's still nothing new there," Heath said. "Right now he is planning on being a Razorback and we are hoping that will be the case, but we'll likely know more after these all-star games he is playing in."

Heath said Monday night that there was still nothing new from Jefferson in regards to a decision and will press on until he does.

"We have to keep all of our options open," Heath said. "You never know. Al's been great. I just talked to him on the phone the other day. He's looking forward to the all-star games."

If Jefferson does come and no scholarship is available, certainly shooter become the priority in the next recruiting class according to Heath.

"Right now we are limited in how many scholarships we would have available for the following year, but we are going to keep beating the bushes and look for something that is going to make our team better," Heath said. "Primarily our needs are to find somebody that can really shoot the ball. We are focusing a lot of attention on that - whether it is a guard or a bigger guy. Perimeter shooting is really a focus in our next class."

Arkansas coaches will be on hand this week at the National Junior College Tournament in Hutchinson, Kan., and also out evaluating other prospects, some of who are still playing.

One of those is 6-1, 170-pound Chris Lofton of Maysville (Ky.) Mason County, who will be trying to lead his team to a second straight state title in Kentucky's 87th annual Sweet 16 this week at Rupp Arena.

Mason, the favorite for Mr. Basketball in Kentucky and someone who is averaging 27 points and 8 assists per game, was recently quoted as saying he plans to visit Arkansas, Florida, Georgia and Notre Dame.

He is a dynamite shooter, having drained 9 3-pointers in 12 attempts in last season's state championship game win over Louisville Ballard.

Lofton will be back at it on Wednesday afternoon as his team battles Wayne County in the opening game of the four-day tournament.

The National Junior College Tournament opened Tuesday night with play continuing through Saturday between the nation's top juco squads.

Roderick Trice, a 6-3,170-pound guard who has led Georgia Perimeter (28-3) to a second straight national tournament, has been mentioned on the Arkansas recruiting radar although one report indicates he is no longer an option.

Trice is someone that averaged 20.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and 4.2 steals while shooting an amazing 66.8 percent from the field and being named the Georgia Junior College Athletic Association Player of the Year.

"We just have to do our best to size up the situation with Al and make some decisions," Heath said. "One thing you always want to be is prepared for anything and that is what we are doing."

o o o

One player that Heath knows he will have on the court next season put on quite a performance in North Little Rock on Saturday.

Marcus Monk, a 6-6, 215-pound standout who is actually a Razorback football signee, had 34 points, 17 rebounds and 6 assists while leading his East Poinsett County team to a 78-45 rout over Osceola in the Class AAA state championship game at Alltel Arena.

"It's just a great feeling," said Monk, who did all these with Heath and over 8,000 fans looking on. "We worked so long and hard to make this happen and it was so worth it. I get a lot of the headlines, but I have such great teammates."

Monk will head down to Bud Walton Arena, but not until he is done with football. He caught passes for over 1,000 yards as both a junior and senior and then went out and averaged over 20 points and 14 rebounds on the basketball court.

"I'm really looking forward to getting up there and playing both sports and trying to get a starting spot in each one," Monk said. "I'm real excited about it. I am going to come up there during (football) spring practice and watch some."

Monk, who also sports a 3.9 grade point average, says he has a lot of love for both sports.

"But football is going to be my first concern right away because I am on a football scholarship," Monk said. "I really think I have a great future in both sports."

o o o Kudos should go to the city of North Little Rock and Alltel Arena for the job they did hosting the Arkansas State High School Basketball Championships last weekend.

They hosted 10 games and set several attendance records such as two-day attendance total (68,092); high school boys game (14,601) for the Class AAAAA finals between West Memphis and North Little Rock) and for a high school girls state championship game (7,560 for the Class AAAAA game between Little Rock Parkview and Cabot).

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