SPREADING THEIR WINGS
FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas sophomore swingman Olu Famutimi summed up his new outlook on the game in three short sentences. "Defense wins games," he said. "Offense wins fans. We're trying to win some games." Don't take that to mean the 6-foot-5 small forward from Flint, Mich., has reformed his high-flying, crowd-pleasing ways. Finally 100 percent physically and mentally after a serious knee injury late in his high school career, Famutimi is still the most exciting Razorback when his sneaks leave the court for a tomahawk slam or to take a lob pass high above the rim and throw it down. His idea of defense used to be gambling for steals to set himself up for another highlight-reel play, but watching his homestate team win the NBA title over the summer shifted Famutimi's priorities. "I'm just thinking about shutting people down and winning the game the right way, just like the Detroit Pistons," Famutimi said. "They didn't just play with offense. They played with each other in team defense. "That's why they won the championship last year and that's how we're trying to play this year." Famutimi's words are music to third-year Arkansas coach Stan Heath's ears. He asked perimeter players Famutimi, junior Jonathon Modica and senior Mike Jones to improve on their defense in the offseason. Not only have they answered Heath's request, but each has gone beyond mere improvements to expanding their overall games as well. Famutimi has been first or second in rebounding since practice began Oct. 16 and Heath calls him the Razorbacks' best defender at small forward. Modica, Arkansas' top returning scorer (16.5 ppg) and offensive rebounder (2.1 per game), laid off the weights this summer in favor of improving his lateral quickness and ball-handling. Heath said Modica is much better rotating, defending the ball and helping. The captain known as "Pookie" showed off his new ball skills by dishing out a game-high 6 assists in the Razorbacks' first exhibition win against Texas A&M Commerce. "It makes our team better," Modica said. "When somebody adds something to their game, it always adds to the program. That's the most important thing." Jones has always been considered a one-dimensional player with a nice jumper, but he's become more aggressive by playing and winning 1-on-1 games against Famutimi and sophomore point guard Ronnie Brewer. The 6-9 Jones will also expand his role at power forward occasionally now that fellow Little Rock native Vincent Hunter is out for the season and he could create problems matching up against bigger and slower players who can't step out to guard him. If they do, Jones said, now he can make them pay. "Just by attempting to go to the basket, they're going to come off me so I can shoot my jump shot easier," he said. Heath knows he has scorers at the perimeter positions of shooting guard and small forward. Junior Eric Ferguson, who played point guard for the last two years, will split time between the point and the shooting guard this year and is the Razorbacks' top returning 3-point shooter. Famutimi led Arkansas with 17 points against A&M Commerce and Modica led against Abilene with 20. Ferguson hit 3 of 4 3-pointers and scored 13 off the bench against TAMC. Defense, though, is still the name of the game because Heath is abandoning zone defense this year in favor of hard man-to-man. Modica and Famutimi will have to guard some of the best scorers in the Southeastern Conference like fellow wing players Scooter McFadgon of Tennessee, Matt Walsh of Florida and Kennedy Winston of Alabama. Simply filling up the stat sheet on Arkansas' end isn't going to cut it for Arkansas' wing players, Heath said. "Those guys have a tough chore in front of them," Heath said. "Not only do they have to be guys who can put the ball in the basket, but they have to stop other guys who are good scorers as well. "It doesn't make any sense for me to get 15 and give up 20." Only Ole Miss and Auburn shot fewer free throws than Arkansas last year and Heath would like to see that number go up this year. Modica, Jones and Ferguson are excellent free throw shooters while Famutimi and Brewer could use some improvement. "Teams that get to the free throw are usually more successful in winning games simply because you put the other team in foul trouble and make that player very tentative in what he's doing defensively," Heath said. "It allows us to get our defense set, it's an advantage for us. That's part of their game that they need to utilize more." Heath said all of his guards and wing players can make an argument for starting and he would have a hard time disagreeing with any of them. Distributing minutes among his deep bench is a good kind of problem, but he said it won't necessarily be the player with the hot hand offensively who will earn the most minutes. "When you do things like defend and rebound," he said, "you'll earn playing time with me."
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