Men Practice Players Help Lady Razorbacks

FAYETTEVILLE -- Clarence Jones, Justin Davis and A.J. Killham have found a unique niche in the Arkansas women's basketball program.

The three UA men students practice two or three times a week with the Lady Razorbacks, and have to meet academic eligibility requirements just as the women players do.

"I love having the guys around," said Arkansas women's coach Susie Gardner. "They sacrifice two hours a day to help us, while many of their friends are working."

Jones, a senior from Houston, Texas, and Davis, a junior from Little Rock, practiced with the Lady'Backs last season also. Killham, a freshman from Shiloh Christian in Springdale, plans to continue as a practice player next season.

"The guys work hard and definitely give us a run for our money every day," said Arkansas sophomore forward Danielle Allen of Harrison.

The Three Amigos have the battle scars to prove it.

"I accidentally hit A.J. square in the face last week," Allen said. "I had to ask if he was all right."

Jones wore a splint on the little finger of his left hand, but he absolved the Lady'Backs of any responsibility.

"It was a freak accident -- the ball hit the floor, bounced up and got me," Jones said.

Killham said proudly, "I think we've helped the team get better this season. They're pretty undersized, so when they go against bigger players it prepares them for the games."

It takes a certain mind-set to do the guys' job.

"We ask them to have no ego on the court," Gardner said.

Jones figured that out last season after he blocked UA superstar Shameka Christon a little too hard with his body.

"Coach Gardner told me to calm down," Jones recalled, grinning.

Jones, a kinesiology major who wants to coach, had asked UA assistant Darren Sorenson earlier in Jones' UA tenure about the possibility of being a walk-on player or a manager for the men's team, but there were no openings.

"I wanted to transfer -- I was homesick," Jones said. "But (Lady'Backs guard) Sheree Thompson was in my kinesiology class, and one day coach Gardner spoke in class."

UA graduate assistant Alli Clark had posted a noticed at the HPER Building inviting men students to practice with the Lady'Backs.

"I didn't see it, but I found out in kinesiology class," Jones said. "I decided to join them."

Now Jones hopes to succeed Clark as a grad assistant after she completes a degree this spring.

Killham learned about the opportunity to practice when his dad saw an item on ESPN about it.

"I had played for coach Brad Stamps at Shiloh, and he knew (UA assistant) Amber Shirey," Killham said.

The rest is history.

Davis, a finacial investments major, liked the idea of getting free basketball shoes, a sweatshirt and game tickets in exchange for helping the Lady'Backs.

He credits UA trainer Phill Vardiman with patching the men up when they get nicked in practice. Davis has had a bloody nose and Jones a busted lip this season. Jones and UA guard Rochelle Vaughn had a pretty good collision last week, but both bounced right back up.

Adrienne Bush, Sarah Pfeifer and Allen are among the toughest Lady'Backs in practice, the men's trio agreed.

"Our guys can be the scout team and spare Sarah some contact on her (injured) shoulder in practice," Gardner said. "A lot of times our opponents play a defense we don't necessarily want our team to play, so the guys can simulate that for us."

While Jones and Davis went home for spring break last Friday, Killham helped the Lady'Backs practice on Saturday and Sunday as they prepared to play Arkansas State in the Women's Invitation Tournament.

Before that tournament started, Killham said, "I like Arkansas' chances. Just playing in a national tournament will help their reputation. A big key is how Sarah can do against 6-foot-3 girls."

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