Modica Sharpens Game Over Summer

FAYETTEVILLE -- Jonathon "Pookie" Modica may have the highest returning scoring average since Corliss Williamson, but he didn't spend his summer trying to bump that number this year.

The junior shooting guard averaged 16.5 points per game last season, the best for a returnee since Williamson averaged 20.4 in Arkansas' national championship season of 1994.

While Modica paced the Razorbacks in scoring, freshman Ronnie Brewer led Arkansas in everything else from rebounds (5.5) to field goal percentage (48.1) to assists (3.4) and steals (2.0).

Modica would like to take some of that load off Brewer, who was second on the team with 12.2 points per game.

"I definitely got better at passing, ball-handling and defensively (over the summer)," Modica said. "That's the things I always work on in the summer. My body got better. I think every part of my game improved.

"I tried to make sure I was in a position where I could come back this year and help my team out more than one or two ways. I really tried to become an all-around player this summer."

Modica and coach Stan Heath know he can score, but with more inside help on campus and the expected emergence of sophomore Olu Famutimi (who wasn't 100 percent last year because of a lingering high school knee injury), he expects to be more of a distributor this season.

"We've got some talented players, guys who can put the ball in the bucket more than we have in the past," Modica said. "I look forward to getting them the rock just like they look forward to giving it to me."

The 6-foot-4 Modica, who attended an all-star camp in Duluth, Ga., this summer, is a rock-hard 200 pounds and didn't gain any bulk over the summer.

Heath said the focus of Modica's off-season conditioning was lateral movement and flexibility, tools he'll need to become a better defensive player.

Modica has suffered through 9-19 and 12-16 seasons in his freshman and sophomore years. He said this off-season was the most focused for the Razorbacks.

"We took this summer very seriously," he said. "We just feel like there's just no way we go through what we went through the last two years again."

He said he doesn't want his new teammates finding out what his old teammates have experienced the last two years.

"We're trying to make sure (the freshmen) don't find out," he said. "We will make sure they won't find out."

Paradise Jam Set
Arkansas will open its regular season at the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands at 7 p.m. CST on Nov. 19 against Winthrop in the "St. Thomas" bracket.

Saint Louis, Austin Peay and Heath's alma mater, Eastern Michigan, are in the "St. John's" bracket.

Winthrop is located in Rock Hill, S.C., and is a member of the Big South Conference, which the Eagles won five straight years (1998-2002). The Eagles were 16-12 last season and failed to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998.

The Razorbacks will have their off day Nov. 20 to avoid a conflict with the Arkansas-Mississippi State football game. They will play Troy University at 7 p.m. on Nov. 21.

Troy is in the last year of membership in the Atlantic Sun Conference, a league the Trojans have won three straight years.

Troy was 24-7 last season, 18-2 in conference and went to the NIT for the first time.

The teams with the best record from each bracket will play each other in the championship game at 7 p.m. on Nov. 22. Teams with the second- and third-best records from either side will play each other at 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.

The average daily temperature in the Virgin Islands is 86 degrees, a little better than a chilly November weekend in Fayetteville, but Heath doesn't plan on letting his team get distracted.

"It's totally a business trip," Heath said. "I may go let the guys see the beach, but it's going to be the last thing on the list."

Those looking for info on the tournament or travel packages can find out more at basketballtravelers.com.

Individual Workouts
Arkansas coaches get to spend two hours per week with each player, working on individual skills in groups of no more than four.

The Razorbacks' staff is working on a variety of drills tailored to each player.

Six-foot-11 freshman Steven Hill of Branson, Mo., has been getting a lot of work on his free throws because Heath believes he will take a lot of fouls as the team's center.

Darian Townes, a 6-foot-10 freshman from Alexandria, Va., by way of Hargrave Military Academy, is a tremendous shot blocker and Heath said coaches have been helping him develop some go-to moves to go with his already strong defensive skills.

Heath would like to see a player like Famutimi move without the ball better to get open and be able to create space to get more shots off.

His perimeter players are shooting 1,500 jumpers per week to improve an area that was inconsistent at best last year.

Other observations from the Razorbacks' open gym workouts:

Charles Thomas, 6-foot-7, 240 pounds from Jackson, Miss., is hyperactive around the basket, loves to follow his shot and has a pure stroke from 3-point range. He's a physical, down-and-dirty player with a lot of touch.

Dontell Jefferson, the 6-6, 190-pound junior college transfer, has already earned the respect of his teammates. Heath said it's a lot easier for a point guard trying to get 20 assists to make friends than a JC transfer trying to get 20 shots.

• It's going to be tough for teams to get shots off in the paint when Hill and Townes are in the game as the center and power forward. The pair takes turns swatting shots and cleaning up for each other.

Hawgs Daily Top Stories