Hogs Return to Practice

Stan Heath will turn to his biggest lineup combination against Jacksonville State.

The Arkansas basketball team is back at work after taking some time off for Christmas, but one of the Hogs is staying home waiting for the biggest present of all Tuesday.

Freshman forward Charles Thomas stayed in the Jackson, Miss., area to support his girl friend in the birth of their first child. The birth is expected Tuesday. With Stan Heath's blessing, Charles will miss the Wednesday night game and return on Thursday.

"Charles is very excited and anxious," Heath said. "We encouraged him to stay home these extra days for this special event. We are going to support him and we are excited for him."

With Thomas out for Wednesday's game, and Rashard Sullivan more comfortable coming off the bench, Heath said he would likely start 7-0 Steven Hill and 6-10 Darian Townes together. That would be the first time for what Townes calls the Hogs' "twin towers" to start together. Hill has started most of the time, with the red-hot Townes usually coming in off the bench. Sullivan has been the top sub at power forward.

Interestingly, Townes and Hill rarely practice on the same squad and will probably work against each other in most of the scrimmages the next two days, according to Heath.

"If we put them on the same team in practice right now, that means they'll be scrimmaging against Rashard Sullivan and Mike Jones," Heath said. "That probably doesn't help either one of them. No, even with them starting together Wednesday, today and Tuesday they'll probably go against each other."

The plan is to play Hill at the five or center spot and Townes at the four or power forward slot.

"We wanted to play them together more than we have, but we've played a lot of teams that are smaller with four perimeter players," Heath said. "That's not really fair to Darian to put him that far away from the basket on defense. You don't want him out there on a 6-5 guy that is either going to shoot a three or drive.

"The thing we know is that in the SEC there will be a lot of teams with two big men, two in the 6-9, 6-10 range and the matchups will be better. But we want to look at this combination more. The flip side to what we'll see this week is that it's a tough matchup for these teams when they are on defense. I think this is going to work out fine. I really like the way both Darian and Steven move their feet on defense. They should be able to handle this and it's going to give us some interesting options in the middle."

Townes said playing the four should not present any special problems.

"I think I can handle it," Townes said. "Both Steven and I can play that spot. Both of us can move our feet and defend a forward on the perimeter. We both look forward to this. We just want to help the team. We know that the SEC is going to present some challenges that require both of us to be out there and we will be ready for that."

Heath also said the Hogs would look at Marcus Monk at power forward this week.

"We've looked at Marcus at the three mainly so far," Heath said. "We're going to get him ready to play the four some this week. That will change some of his assignments in some schemes and we'll try to teach him those roles this week."

Heath said the Hogs had a rugged and tough practice Sunday night and had another tough workout planned for Monday morning as the Hogs got back in the swing of things after taking three days off for the Christmas break.

Heath said the Hogs will focus on eliminating turnovers this week in their practices and two games. The next outing is versus Jacksonville, Ala., State on Wednesday.

"We are forcing some turnovers and that is good, but we are giving up way too many ourselves," Heath said. "We've got to cut down on some turnovers."

Ronnie Brewer said that would be the intent this week from the three point guards on this team.

"Me, Eric Ferguson and Dontell Jefferson have to keep getting assists, but we have to take it on ourselves to cut way back on the turnovers," Brewer said. "That's the goal for the point guards this week, to see what we can do to improve the assist-to-turnover ratio."

Heath said the trip home Thursday was a bit scary for some players because of ice-covered roads in Central Arkansas.

"Marcus Monk had to spend the night in Little Rock and didn't get to Lepanto until Friday," Heath said. "Jonathon Modica had planned to drive home Wednesday night after the game and we made him stay in Fayetteville and extra day. It took him about 90 minutes longer than usual to get to Smackover. It took Mike Jones an extra hour to make it to Little Rock."

Heath said the time off boosted the Hogs mental and physical condition.

"Our players all have fresh legs," Heath said. "They commented on that when they got back. I saw an extra bounce in their steps last night. The time away is good. We'd played a lot of games in short time last week before the break."

Vincent Hunter did not return on Sunday after Heath gave the rehabbing forward permission to attend his mother's birthday party Tuesday. Hunter is redshirting after undergoing reconstructive shoulder surgery before the season began.

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