Brewer, Modica High On Hogs

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- As broadcast journalism majors at Arkansas, Ronnie Brewer and Jonathon Modica were ready for the barrage of questions when Southeastern Conference Basketball Media Days began Wednesday.

"Sometimes we interview each other in class," Modica said. "I even learned how to edit tape."

Modica is back to his clowning, self-confident self after a tough junior season.

"I think Ronnie is going to be the SEC Player of the Year -- if I don't get it," Modica said, with a twinkle.

The Razorbacks, 18-12 last season, figured to be picked fairly high this year because of their returning talent and balance.

Brewer cited another big reason.

"I think we have good team chemistry on and off the court," he said. "It's better this year. In the past, that's been one of our problems. Now everyone is making sure to bond, so we can gel better on the court."

Modica acknowledged that splitting time with Olu Famutimi was tough last season, but he also said he would miss him.

"The frustrating part last year was losing," Modica said. "I took a two-week break after the season to get away. My grandmother emphasized to me that life is bigger than just basketball. I was too focused on basketball. But when I came back, I felt like I could play again and I got my swagger back."

Brewer noticed.

"Jonathon has his confidence back," Brewer said. "For our team to be successful, he has to play like he did as a freshman and sophomore and be a scorer. Plus, he's playing better defense."

Because defense and Modica haven't often appeared in the same sentence, Modica was invited to say what the word "defense" means to him now.

"Stay solid and keep your guy in front of you," he replied. "Don't reach. You're going to have to play defense to get to the professional level. At that level, you have to do it every night."

Hogs coach Stan Heath, whose team is generally lumped among Alabama and LSU as possible SEC West contenders, didn't blink when asked about being on the hot seat this season.

"The expectations at Arkansas have always been great," Heath said. "I just signed a new five-year deal, my athletic director and administration are obviously tremendously supportive, and whatever the perception is out there is what it is."

Neither Heath nor his players have shied away from being picked higher this season.

"The league is so wide, wide open," Heath said. "We've made a nice, steady progression of getting better and we're poised to contend for a top spot in our league. I can tell you flat out, we're a whole lot better than we were at the end of March."

Modica wouldn't even mind Arkansas being favored to win the West.

"Do I care where we're picked?" he said. "A tad bit. We'll probably be picked second or third in the West. I don't like that. But I'm glad we're not fifth or sixth anymore. I've played in the league three years and I feel we have the talent. I'm just excited about this team."

Brewer agreed with his broadcasting buddy.

"I think we're very deep and can match up with any team in the conference," Brewer said. "If it's Kentucky, LSU, Alabama -- I think we can play with all of them. We're looking at it like they have to play us. That's the swagger that we're coming out with this season."

Brewer and Modica did not hesitate when they were asked which Razorback had surprised them the most in preseason.

"Steven Hill," they said.

Brewer said, "Last year, people remember him just blocking shots. Now he's more physical, sets better screens, goes for dunks and does a lot of the dirty work."

Modica added, "Steven is like night and day. He's smiling, having fun. On the defensive end I haven't played against a guy who can go from one side of the lane to the other like he can. He's a tough, strong 7-footer. He's there to clean up if we try to make a steal. I'm praying every night he carries it into the season. He can take this team to another level."

Count Auburn coach Jeff Lebo among the believers.

"Arkansas has a lot of guys coming back," Lebo said. "They have size and athleticism. I think Brewer and Darian Townes could both make All-Conference."

Lebo said he hadn't even seen Sean McCurdy, a promising UA freshman point guard.

Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said, "Arkansas has the most experienced team, with four seniors in the backcourt."

Actually, Brewer is a junior, but Stansbury was right about Modica, Eric Ferguson and Dontell Jefferson.

South Carolina senior guard Rocky Trice recalled being impressed by Jefferson in junior college, and he said, "Ronnie Brewer is a real good player. You've got to keep him off the glass."

Georgia center Dave Bliss mentioned another factor in the Hogs' favor.

"Arkansas has one of the loudest arenas in the league, I think," he said.

But before the SEC wars begin, Heath said, "First things first. We have a tough nonconference schedule, with five major, major-conference teams."

Hogs fans should quickly know more about this team after it plays Connecticut, either Kansas or Arizona and one other top opponent in the EA Sports Maui Invitational next month.

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