Roaring Lions

In his weekly recruiting column for Hawgs Illustrated and The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas, Dudley E. Dawson catches up with the top junior college player in the country - who just happens to be on the top-ranked preseason team in the country. This story is sponsored by the Arkansas Toyota Dealers. It's free and so is a special offer to attend a Razorback event on the Arkansas Toyota Dealers website.

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Most University of Arkansas basketball fans know that Razorback recruit Sonny Weems is a great junior college basketball player who will more than likely play in the NBA one day.

But while they may know that Weems is considered the best junior college player, they may not know his team also enters the season with the top ranking.

Weems, a 6-6, 200-pound guard-forward, and the No. 1 University of Arkansas-Fort Smith Lions will get their season underway Thursday night when they face Olney (Ill.) Central in opener of a three-day tournament in West Plains, Mo.

"It is just kind of exciting to be able to play," UAFS head coach Jeremy Cox said. "It's cooled off a little bit and it's just that time of the year. It will be exciting to see where we are and if we can put it all together."

That's what will be expected since Weems - Street and Smith's Preseason juco Player of the Year and the top-rated one by several recruiting services - joins a  lineup that also includes 6-9 New Mexico State commit Hatila Passos and 6-10 Miami commit Fabio Nass.

Both of those Brazilian-born guys are transfers from Dixie State Junior College and expected to make life easier for Weems, who was the tallest player on the floor at times last season while averaging 17 points and 5 rebounds.

"We've got some big fellas now so that should open it up for our guards," Weems said. "That's going to be so nice. It just looks really good for us. A lot of good players and a lot of depth."

Weems, who committed to Arkansas in late September after also considering Tennessee, Memphis, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor and Texas A&M, is taking his preseason honors in stride.

"It is a real big honor to be both the number one team and be considered the number one player," Weems said. "I didn't get this much pub back in high school as I do now. But it doesn't matter what they say in the preseason. It only matters if you go out and take care of business as a team during the season."

That's what Weems and his teammates expect and have a stated goal of ending up in Hutchinson, Kan., for the NJCAA tournament March 19-25 with a chance to win a national title.

"We are loaded," Weems said. "We've got some good incoming freshman, four sophomores coming back from last year and added some new great new players from Dixie State. We should be very, very good and our goal is to win it all. It is definitely something that we can do."

UAFS - who hasn't had this much hype and expectations since it was called Westark and future Razorback Darrell Walker was leading the charge in 1979-80 - went 29-4 last season.

But on paper they look even better this season according to Cox, whose team will open its home slate with a four-team tournament Nov. 11-12 at the Stubblefield Center .

"We have depth in the post, wing wise we area really good and we shoot the ball a lot better than we shot it last year," Cox said. "On paper it is a better team, but that team last year shouldn't have won some games at times, but just had an edge to it and refused to lose a lot of times."

They should get plenty of fan support not only from the loyal supporters of the Lions, but also from Razorback supporters curious to see how good Weems is.

"I think once Arkansas fans get to know him they are even going to be more excited about him and just fall in love with him," Cox said. "He is not only a great ball player, but just a great kid to be around. He is just a nice person.

  "We hope people will come out to see us, develop some interest and we see a lot of them out here," Cox added. "The people will see we play good basketball here. All Lions fans are Razorbacks fans to me and I hope we can steal a few of them when we are playing on Monday and the Razorbacks are off."

Weems is part of a UA 2006 recruiting class that also includes Hargrave Military guard Stefan Welsh (6-3, 180) and Genesis One forward Michael Washington (6-10, 230) as well as Mississippi State transfer Gary Ervin and junior college transfer Ryan McBride (6-5, 190), scheduled to arrive in Fayetteville in December and redshirt the rest of the 2005-2006 season.

Weems is also hoping that current Razorback star Ronnie Brewer will stick around for his senior season.

"I guess I will be playing the three, but if we can get Ronnie to stick around I want to be ready to play the two," Weems said. "I am going to working on my shooting and be just lights out when I get to Arkansas."

"I am glad I got it over with and finally know where I am going to be at, who my coach is going to be," Weems said. "I couldn't be any happier right now about it. I think they are going to have a great year and so are we and then we can just keep the winning going once we all get up there next year."

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