Filling Needs

In his weekly recruiting column for Hawgs Illustrated and The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas, Dudley E. Dawson writes about what Razorback head coach Stan Heath expects from next season's squad and how the incoming recruits will fit in. 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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It's a given that University of Arkansas basketball seniors Jonathon  Modica, Eric  Ferguson and Dontell Jefferson will not be back next year - and I'm of the opinion that junior Ronnie Brewer will opt for the NBA and follow them out the door.

We know that point guard and Mississippi State transfer Gary Ervin (5-11, 160) is already here and University of Arkansas-Fort Smith swingman Sonny Weems(6-6, 200), Hargrave Military Academy combo guard Stefan Welsh (6-3, 180) and Genesis One big man Michael Washington (6-10, 235) are scheduled to arrive.

You've also got spring recruits like Michigan standout Ramar Smith and/or Chicago prep star Patrick Beverley who could also be added to the roster.

So how's this thing going to play out next season? Better? Worse? About the same?

"The biggest thing for our team to continue to make this climb is to improve in some areas," Arkansas head coach Stan Heath said. "I look at last year and I look at this year. We were third in our conference in scoring, in the top four in scoring defense and field goal defense and for a team who in some ways our weaknesses were ballhandling and passing, we ranked very high in assist-turnover ration and turnover margin.

"Really across the board we made tremendous improvement in every statiscal category except three - and that would be three-point shooting, three-point defense and rebounding," Heath added. "These are the areas that we are going to attack to be better in - whether it is with adding personnel that that's there strength or making sure it ‘s an emphasis we become better at. It's what we have done in the past - emphasize some things and gotten better at it."

Heath - whose Razorbacks have gone from 9 to 22 wins in his tenure without a true point guard or shooter - pointed out Monday how he thought the jet-quick Ervin - who automatically becomes the team leader in number of NCAA Tournament games played with four - will have a tremendous impact on his team next season.

"When you look at a guy like Gary Ervin coming into the mix, he is a guy who you will never worry about presses, never worry about pushing the tempo because he is fast, can distribute the ball and will be a leader out there with the ball in his hands and make things happen," Heath said.

Heath , who also expects current Razorback freshman Sean McCurdy to be a better player and better shooter next season, expects his big guys to be happier and more productive because of the ability of McCurdy and Ervin to get in the lane and dish.

"I expect that to be something he brings to the table for us," Heath said. "That ability to get in there and get us a lay-up, get us a dunk off penetration. We have not been a great team at penetration and it might even improve our shooting game - being able to penetrate, collapse a defense and play inside out with not only the posts, but the guard spot. "

Heath is also very high on Weems, whom Heath will be on to see lead his team into the National Junior College Athletic Association Tournament beginning this morning at 10 a.m. when UAFS faces Bronx (N.Y) Monroe.

"Sonny Weems is an awfully, awfully talented player," Heath said. "I think our fans are really going to enjoy watching that kid play. He is really something special."

"I could be wrong, but I think Sonny Weems is going to be a very big impact player for us right away," Heath added. "...I think you will see when you see Sonny play that he is a guy who can score, but he is almost too unselfish in a lot of ways. He will pass up a lot of opportunities to keep his teammates involved. He is a good passer."

Heath is well aware of how most junior college players take awhile to adjust to the major college level.

"It will be hard to keep him off the floor right now," Heath said. "I think most of the time a coach has to take a step back to wonder is he a junior college kid and it's going to take him a year or is he going to be ready right away," Heath said. "When I look at him, I will be very shocked if he is not ready right away. The reason why I say that is he does too many things well that I think will allow him to do well.

"In transition, he's incredible," Heath added. "Defensively, he is a phenomenal defensive player. He's quickness and anticipation skills, he rebounds the ball well. We will get more rebounding from our perimeter because of what he does. He is relentless at moving without the ball. (UA assistant coach Dan) Hipsher will be smiling all the time watching this kid cut and move. He just continually does that and will be a hard guy to guard."

Heath marvels at Weems' efficiency on the court.

"He is not a great shooter, but he is not a bad shooter," Heath said. "What he does is that he is very efficient. He doesn't take bad shots very often. He knows what his strengths are and he plays to them and he is very consistent.

"Most of the times when you find a junior college player, they don't play defense or sometimes the competition level you question if they have been tested," Heath said. "But this kid has had very good coaching, played against a high level of players...He is rated as the number one, two or three junior college player in the country and I don't think that is by accident."

Heath also believes he has signed another gem in Welsh.

"Stefan Welsh is a kid I don't think may people (Razorback fans) know about because he is on the East Coast, but he is a kid that can do a lot of things," Heath said. "He shoots it, he handles it, he can play both guard spots and he is very explosive. He is about 6-foot-3 and is a very good player."

Former McGehee standout Washington (6-10, 235) is a guy who still needs to improve his ACT score and whom Heath expects to know more about his availability in the next week or so to add him to the deep front court.

Obviously adding either Smith and/or Beverley would no doubt help in a lot of areas as well.

"I say if Ronnie's decision is to stay here, I think that will effect somebody else's decision," Heath said. "I definitely know we will land at least one guy and maybe even two."

"Obviously 3-point shooting is a key for us and I definitely want that, but I also think that if I can't find it or if there is somebody that is better or just the best player available," Heath sid. "I certainly won't turn them down if they bring some things that are going to make us good. But 3-point shooting is something that is high on my list of needs for our basketball team."

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