Post Presents

Editor's Note: This is the third and final installment of a three-part series previewing Arkansas' basketball season area-by-area.

FAYETTEVILLE -- NBA future Hall of Famer and current Houston assistant Patrick Ewing was at home last Tuesday resting before the Rockets hosted Memphis when a phone call interrupted his nap.

Arkansas second-year assistant coach Ronny Thompson asked Ewing about the best way to teach a certain post move to 7-foot Razorbacks freshman center Steven Hill.

The week before, Thompson got a call from New York Knicks power forward Michael Sweetney asking about Razorbacks freshman center Darian Townes, whom he played against during off-season workouts at Georgetown.

The son of former Georgetown coach John Thompson, who guided Ewing and the Hoyas to three Final Fours and the NCAA championship in 1984, Thompson isn't shy about tapping into his wealth of contacts.

Thompson, who played and coached for his father at Georgetown, and Ewing discussed what Hill felt most comfortable doing, and finally Ewing told Thompson it didn't really matter how Hill did it as long as he was in the gym working on it.

"He said they can't get guys in the gym, and they're paying them," Thompson said.

Such is the life of big men these days when players like Ewing and other big-time Georgetown big men like Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning and Jahadi White might not have gone to college if they were coming out of high school now.

Learning the basics of post positioning, a drop step, a baseline spin move, a hook shot or playing defense before your man gets the ball almost seem like antiquated notions now to players who stand 6-10 or taller and take the easier path straight to the NBA.

That was the decision 6-10, 265-pound Razorbacks signee Al Jefferson made, and he was taken 15th in the 2004 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics, for whom he's playing 11 minutes per game and averaging 5.2 points and 3.6 rebounds.

For Arkansas, it's a good thing Hill and Townes aren't as close to a finished product as the still-raw Jefferson was.

"If these guys, Steven and Darian, were polished, they wouldn't be here," Thompson said. "They're both over 6-10. It's going to take some time and work, but they're going to be fine."

Hiring an assistant like Thompson was a must for third-year Arkansas coach Stan Heath, who knew he had to attract talented post players and be able to coach them up when they got here.

It's a safe bet few assistants -- and even some head coaches -- in the Southeastern Conference don't have the kind of numbers Thompson can scroll through with the press of a thumb on his cell phone.

"I felt Ronny was a very good hire and a very good fit for our program, especially with the entrance of our young big players," Heath said. "To have the ability to call Patrick Ewing or Alonzo Mourning, Mike Sweetney or just to call his dad is a tremendous advantage."

Heath will enjoy the size advantage with Townes and Hill and he has the luxury of bringing them along slowly because Arkansas' offensive load should be carried by its abundance of perimeter scorers.

Hill, Townes and junior power forward Rashard Sullivan have a defensive mentality that fits well with Heath's need for stops, blocks and rebounds from his post players.

The three have combined to block 14 shots in two exhibition games.

In the 12-team SEC, Arkansas was 11th in field goal percentage defense last year (43.4), 10th in rebounds (34.5) and 11th in rebounding defense (36.7).

When Heath had Dionisio Gomez, Alonzo Lane and Larry Satchell in his first season -- big, but not super-talented players -- Arkansas led the SEC in rebounding and was second in rebounding margin. So it's clear his emphasis on hitting the glass works as long as he has the bodies.

Freshman 6-7, 240-pound forward Charles Thomas possesses good defensive skills and has the best offensive game of any of the post players so far.

He can stroke 3-pointers, pass well out of the high post and is a hyperactive presence around the rim, banging and finishing plays in the paint. His ability to play away from the basket should help soften the loss of sophomore forward Vincent Hunter, who is out for the season after shoulder surgery two weeks ago.

When Hill and Townes got into early foul trouble against Abilene Christian in Friday night's 90-56 home exhibition win, it was Thomas and Sullivan who ably manned the power forward and center spots, giving Heath a chance to see a combination he hadn't tried much in practice.

Sullivan blocked two of his game-high three shots during the stretch and Thomas took two charges and scored nine of his 11 points in the last 10 minutes of the first half.

"That was good to see," Heath said. "That's the Rashard we've seen in practice. That's the Rashard that can really help us."

With the game out of hand late, Heath was able to put Hill and Townes on the floor together, another pairing he hadn't used but may go to more in the nonconference season.

All the inside pupils are "like sponges," Thompson said. "They soak up everything and they try. That's all you can ask for."

Hill and Townes are a study in contrasts. Hill is a perfectionist who shot 75 percent from the field in high school against much smaller opponents. He hates to miss, but coaches have told him he has to take shots -- make or miss -- to force the defense to respect him.

He did just that against Abilene Christian and delighted the crowd when he hit his sweeping left-handed hook shot.

"Steven is a lost treasure," Thompson said. "He has so many things he can do that he doesn't even know he can do. He's growing every day and realizing, ‘OK, I can do that. I can shoot a jump hook. I can shoot a turnaround. I can shoot a running hook.' He's slowly learning the different phases of his own game and he's learning every day."

Hill has learned some referees will call a game closely as he's been whistled for nine fouls in just 26 minutes. Beyond not fouling out, Hill is setting some other goals.

"I'm kind of setting some goals, shoot ‘X' amount of times, get ‘X' amount of points," he said. "That's not how I naturally am. I don't like taking the spotlight or being the attention-getter. I'll adjust to that just like adjusting to anything else."

On the other hand, Townes is not hesitant to shoot but has rushed several attempts.

The only way to learn is experience, and Heath, and his young post players, will get plenty of it.

"Darian has the whole package," Heath said. "It's just a matter of slowing down, and sometimes it seems like making the move is more important than finishing the shot. He'll adjust to that.

"We're just hopeful they'll develop a strong go-to move, and if they can become efficient at that, that will be good enough for where we are now."

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