Heath Looks For Better Things From Modica

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas basketball coach Stan Heath suggested on Monday that too many perimeter chefs may have spoiled the broth for guard Jonathon Modica last season.

"There was congestion on the perimeter," Heath said during a summer Southeastern Conference media teleconference update featuring all 12 league coaches.

With Ronnie Brewer, Olu Famutimi and Eric Ferguson in the mix along with Modica at guard, Modica played fewer minutes last season than in his sophomore year when he averaged 16.5 points per game.

"Jonathon played fewer minutes and slipped in scoring as he tried to be more of a team player," Heath said. "He needs to be in a rhythm and flow. This year, more minutes will be available for him. He's having a great summer."

Despite Famutimi's decision to pursue pro basketball this year, Arkansas still returns four starters.

Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings tabbed the Razorbacks along with LSU and Alabama among the top three teams in the SEC West, and Alabama coach Mike Gottfried said, "Arkansas has the most players back. The West is going to be wide open."

Although top forward Brandon Bass has left LSU early, Tigers coach John Brady said, "I like our team. Glenn Davis is in the best condition of his life -- down to 308 pounds -- and (senior guard) Darrel Mitchell should have his best year."

Ole Miss coach Rod Barnes likes the talent and depth on his team, but admits the Rebels are very young.

So is Auburn, where coach Jeff Lebo is still rebuilding.

"We have eight new guys," Lebo said. "I may put masking tape on their foreheads, like they do in football, to identify them."

Mississippi State will also be very young after a series of player losses that included point guard Gary Ervin, who has transferred to Arkansas.

Bulldogs coach Rick Stansbury declined to discuss Ervin, except to say, "He's a good kid. Things just didn't work out for him. We'll have to see (how Ervin fares at Arkansas after sitting out this season). Time will tell."

Heath said he wouldn't trade his marquee guy, Brewer, for anyone in the SEC.

"I'm biased," Heath said. "Ronnie is a great kid, easy to coach, fun to coach. He does everything you ask. I don't know who else does more for his team."

Heath reminded listeners that Modica still shot his highest percentage last season, and that Vincent Hunter will return from a shoulder injury to support Darian Townes on the front line.

"We have good size, we're long and athletic," Heath said. "We still haven't proven ourselves, but we played about everyone wire to wire last season. We just were not able to win some of those close games."

Heath said sophomores Steven Hill and Charles Thomas should be more productive this season for the Hogs, who went 18-12 in 2004-05.

Perennial SEC favorite Kentucky returns guards Rajon Rondo and Patrick Sparks, but awaits word from the NCAA on whether 6-foot-11 center Randolph Morris can return after testing the NBA waters.

"We have to move on without Morris, at least temporarily," said UK assistant David Hobbs, subbing for head coach Tubby Smith, who was in Scotland. "He'll have to sit out some games."

New Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, after a successful stint at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, inherits fourth-year guard C.J. Watson and an uncertain fan base.

"Men's basketball is not third at Tennessee -- it's about eighth," Pearl said. "You name it on this campus and they're winning championships. But we used to be Kentucky's rival in basketball. We've beaten Kentucky 62 times and Vanderbilt is next at 38. But it's been awhile for us."

Florida coach Billy Donovan and Georgia coach Dennis Felton both said the new NBA draft rules just create more confusion and uncertainty for colleges.

"I still think you have a number of guys who will never go to college," Felton said. "Guys who play for one year are not going to be very motivated students, or they'll think, 'I've gotta get my stats as a freshman to raise my stock.'"

Donovan said, "Some of these kids don't want to be in college. They want to get paid to play the game. They think, 'I don't need my degree; I need my basketball skills.' I'd like to see it where once they sign (a letter of intent), they have to stay three years -- like baseball."

South Carolina coach Dave Odom said, "Our society rushes our young people too much. Coaches are already working on the 2007 class, and looking at (high school) sophomores. I think patience should be the order of the day."

Odom's team loses forward Carlos Powell but returns six key players who helped the Gamecocks win the NIT title last season.

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