There is no question that University of Arkansas head basketball coach Stan Heath would love to have his Razorbacks right where Michigan State - his old team - will be this weekend.
That's in St. Louis playing in the Final Four, instead of just he and his assistants going without the squad and watching it around coach's meetings.
Heath, a former Spartans assistant under Tom Izzo when they won the national championship back in 2000 in the middle of three straight trips to the Final Four, said Monday that his total evaluation of the UA program and possible changes to improve that continues.
"It is an ongoing process and we are still going over things that we think can improve our performance on the court," Heath said. "That involves players and coaches, recruiting and every other aspect. We are looking for improvement in our coaches, improvements in our players and improvements in how we strive for the best.
"I think we are very close to being where we want to be next season, but it's clear that the way we finished was not acceptable to anyone," Heath said. "But I also think it was not reflective of our season as a whole. You look to areas where we improved and continue to work hard there and make changes in areas where you were not as strong."
The Razorbacks will have at least four additional players not available to them last season, including 6-2 point guard Sean McCurdy of New Jersey and 6-9, 230-pound power forward Cyrus McGowan.
McCurdy averaged 15 points and 8 assists as a junior for St. Anthony's during their 30-0 season, but was hurt and missed the entire season. He is continuing to rehab and should be fully healthy this summer.
McGowan, named second-team all-state on Sunday by the Clarion-Ledger, averaged 11.1 points, 12.3 rebounds and 4 blocks this season.
Arkansas will also add a pair of sophomore redshirts to the mix in 6-10, 215-pound forward Vincent Hunter and 6-7 small forward Preston Cranford, the best shooter on the roster.
Hunter was the best player on the Razorbacks' trip to Cancun before the 2003-2004 season - scoring 13 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in one game - and also was very solid in his first four regular season games - averaging 8 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.
He then suffered a shoulder injury that plagued the rest of the year and that he re-injured during this preseason. He did have 14 points and 9 rebounds in a mid-season game his freshman season against Ole Miss and 10 points and 6 rebounds against South Carolina in the SEC Tournament.
Cranford, while not fleet afoot, has lit up his teammates from the outside on many an occasion in practice.
"I think we are filling some needs with the people that we will add in," Heath said. "Shooting, toughness, rebounding and point guard play."
The Razorbacks will almost assuredly sign another prospect with a few names having appeared on the radar screen.
"We have one scholarship available and we are simply looking to improve our team with it by adding a perimeter player," Heath said. "It could be another point guard with ball skills and who can shoot or just another shooter. I think these additions will put us in the right direction."
Armon Bassett, the Indiana point guard whose name has been mentioned in connection with the Razorbacks most lately, told Hawgs Illustrated on Friday afternoon that he will attend prep school regardless of whether he qualifies or not.
Two names that have surfaced over the weekend are 6-1, 180-pound Tarrance Crump of Shelton State (Alabama) CC and 5-10 Jamaal Brown of the College of Southern Idaho - both of whom Heath saw play and earn All-tournament honors at last week's national juco tournament in Hutchinson, Kan.
Crump, a former Decatur, Ala. standout, is reportedly involved with Arkansas, Illinois, Purdue and Auburn.
He averaged 14.4 points and 6.8 assists this season, was named the MVP of the Alabama Community College Conference this season and was also honored as the Bud Obee Outstanding Small Player award at the national tournament.
Brown averaged 18 points, 8 assists, hit 38 percent of his 3-point attempts and 80 percent of his free throws this season.
USC, Illinois, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Gonzaga, UCONN, Purdue and Auburn are schools that have been mentioned with him.
"We are looking on both the high school and junior college level at several guys," Heath said. "We will do whatever it takes to get better."
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