Razorbacks Wrap Up Off-Season Conditioning

As Midnight Madness rapidly approaches, Arkansas wrapped up some of its offseason conditioning work with a mile run at John McDonnell Field on Thursday.

The Razorbacks officially begin practice this Friday at 12:01 a.m. in Bud Walton Arena and coach Stan Heath used the mile run as a conditioning test for the first time in his three years in Fayetteville.

For Heath, the goal was more than just running a sub-six-minute mile, which nearly every player did with exception of a couple of his big men who were very close.

Instead, the goal is to build mental toughness even more than physical toughness.

Heath has also had his team running up Cleveland Hill, which anyone familiar with Fayetteville knows is a brutal quarter-mile climb ending at Razorback Road just north of campus.

The last conditioning test Heath planned to put his team through is the "22" drill, where players must run the length of the court and back twice a total of 22 times.

Heath said his team will naturally get in better shape as basketball season progresses, but building team chemistry going through these kind of shared experiences is a must.

"For me, conditioning is more about becoming tougher, being able to dig down when things are a little bit hard," he said. "It more or less reflects character more than it does what kind of shape you're in.

"I saw a lot of positives from that standpoint and that's more or less what we're trying to do with our chemistry."

Arkansas' offseason conditioning has come "light-years" in Heath's words since his first season in 2002 when some players balked at the tough drills and one ended up quitting the team.

Now veterans like junior swingman Jonathon "Pookie" Modica and junior point guard Eric Ferguson are teaching the newcomers the importance of the drills so the coaches don't have to.

Making key defensive stops and grabbing rebounds down the stretch are the challenges a well-conditioned team -- mentally and physically -- can answer.

Toward the end of a 60-minute conditioning session Tuesday, Modica was telling his teammates, "We get stronger as the game goes on."

That's music to Heath's ears.

"That's encouraging," he said. "You want to hear that from the veterans. That's the kind of mindset we want our players to have to be able to see the big picture why we're running."


Freshman forward Charles Thomas, who took 14 stitches in his left eyelid from fellow freshman Darian Townes two weeks ago and couldn't practice, donned some Horace Grant-style goggles this week to get back in action.

Junior point guard Dontell Jefferson is still slowed by shin splints in his right leg and could only ride the stationary bike while his teammates when through their conditioning Tuesday.

With rest the best cure for shin splints, Jefferson continues to sit out Arkansas' pick-up games.


Sophomore Ronnie Brewer of Fayetteville, who was selected to All-Southeastern Conference and All-American freshmen teams last year, was counted on for heavy contributions last season and led Arkansas in rebounding, assists, steals and shooting percentage.

With freshmen post players Townes, Steven Hill and Thomas expected to carry a big load this season, Brewer has been helping them get ready to make the jump to Division I basketball.

"A lot of people on our team are a lot more confident and we're trying to let that rub off on the freshmen," he said. "Hopefully they can come in and not play like freshmen."

While Brewer may not play the same position as the new big men, he knows the defensive assignments they have to fill.

"When we're in pickup games, we've been playing zone and man looking for some of the things we may do in the season," he said. "We're trying to teach them the rotation and understand a little better when the season comes. I just try to help them on the little fundamental things that will make them better in the long run."

Brewer gained a lot of confidence over the summer playing in camps around the country and the experience inspired him to work even harder once he came home.

"I came home and tried to lift weights as hard as I can so I can get just as big as some of those players," he said. "I worked on my ball-handling, my jump shot, my passing, my conditioning and my free throw shooting. Those are things I may have lacked last year that I needed to improve in the offseason."


Arkansas will have its Media Day this Thursday before hosting Midnight Madness on Friday with the usual assortment of festivities including a 3-point and dunk contest for students.

The Razorbacks will have a light workout after midnight to entertain the fans and come back Saturday for a real practice that Heath said "won't be as much fun."

After 9-19 and 12-16 campaigns in his first two seasons, Heath has been ready for this date ever since South Carolina knocked Arkansas out of the SEC Tournament last March.

"We've been anxious since last year to get back on the court," he said. "We feel like we're putting ourselves in that sort of position where we're competitive, we have more experience, we're a tougher group mentally.

"And I think we have a better collection of overall talent whether it's size or skills."

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