Townes Likely UA's Center Of Attention

FAYETTEVILLE -- Over in Alexandria, Va., Darian Townes tuned into ESPN last Jan. 6 to get his first and only glimpse of Arkansas during a Tuesday night game against LSU in Bud Walton Arena.

A 6-foot-10 beefy center, Townes watched as the Tigers butchered the Hogs, jumping to a 35-23 first-half lead en route to the 66-55 win.

During it, LSU's big men had their way with Arkansas' small ones. Jaime Lloreda ripped down 15 rebounds and Brandon Bass banked and dunked for 20 points.

Clearly, the Hogs (who shrunk to a 12-16 finish) could've used a boost.

"Yeah, they needed help inside," Townes said.

But Townes saw something else that left an impression.

"They lost, but they still gave it a fight," Townes said. "By seeing them play, man, I could see they gave 100 percent even though they did lose."

Had Townes watched the next game, at Mississippi State, he would've seen the same effort, but even more of an inside job. The Bulldogs brushed up the Hogs for 48 points in the paint, while Arkansas managed just 26. Forward Lawrence Roberts led MSU with 29 points and 11 rebounds in the Bulldogs' 80-62 rout while center Marcus Campbell added 10 boards.

That was against an Arkansas frontline that consisted - at differing times, of course -of 6-8 senior Billy Pharis (hard-working, but slow), 6-10 freshman Vincent Hunter (tough, but skinny and working with a separated shoulder), 6-8 sophomore Rashard Sullivan (strong, but not yet polished) and 6-9 junior Michael Jones (more of an outside shooter).

"(The Hogs) were pretty small, so I guess all the big men on the other conference teams took advantage of it," Townes said.

"But that's all right. Things are gonna change."

Thanks largely to Townes' commitment, things are looking up for the Hogs, who also added 7-footer Steven Hill and bullish 6-7 forward Charles Thomas. You can catch a first glimpse of them during Friday night's Midnight Madness workout that begins preparations for the season that tips off with a Nov. 6 exhibition game against Texas A&M Commerce.

Joe Kleine was the sixth pick (Sacramento) of the 1985 NBA Draft, the highest selection in Arkansas history. These days, the 7-footer is the color commentator for the Arkansas Razorback Sports Network. The Hogs' soft belly often has made him sick to his stomach.

Kleine recently watched the Hogs play pickup games for about an hour. He liked what he saw, especially in Townes.

"He looked very polished, very good offensively," said Kleine, who's not one to dole out unwarranted compliments. "Fluid, nice shot, good instincts."

Most know of Townes' defensive abilities (he broke former Georgetown All-American Alonzo Mourning's shot-blocking record with 183 during his sophomore season at Archbishop Carroll High in Washington, D.C.) and averaged 8 blocks as a senior and 8 while prepping a year at Hargrave Military Academy.

But despite relatively low scoring averages his senior season (13.8 points per game) and at Hargrave (12.0), the Hogs believe Townes, who already is 20 years old, will soon become a big-time scoring threat.

Third-year Arkansas coach Stan Heath raves about Thomas' toughness and his eyes light up when discussing Hill's "upside."

But Townes -whose 250-pound body looks a lot like that of, well, Al Jefferson (the Prentiss, Miss., stud who signed with Arkansas before dribbling off to the NBA) -likely will be the center of attention this season.

"Darian Townes is probably the most talented of the group," Heath said. "He can score around the basket. He has a big body with good weight and he handles it well. It's a matter of getting him to be consistent."

Townes said the Hogs' three new post players have been "going at each other" in pickup games and individual drills, shoving themselves to new heights. The constant running and conditioning also has made a big difference.

"Everybody's pushing, working hard, looking good," Townes said. "I don't want to give out too much information, but what I can say right now is we're going to be a good team."

Like Kleine said, a strong inside game opens up so many other things. The Hogs have options now and more man-to-man defense, transition and open jumpers will develop from the inside-out.

Just don't get carried away too quickly.

"There's still going to be some growing pains," Kleine said. "Lot of young kids. You want to jump up and down and scream about the freshmen, but they're still freshmen.

"I was All-Everything out of high school and I went to Notre Dame (one season before transferring to Arkansas) and averaged 2 points and 2 rebounds my freshman year.

"So you've got to be careful. Kids mature at different rates."

At least now the Hogs have some big-time bodies to grow into. Should be interesting watching them do it.

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