High Expectations

Even though his team lost three 1,000-point career scorers, University of Arkansas basketball coach Stan Heath has acknowledges at Media Day that he has high expectations for a team that has a nice mix of veterans and talented newcomers.

Never in his four previous Media Days at the University of Arkansas has Razorback basketball coach Stan Heath seemed so confident and comfortable as he did on Wednesday.

He thinks there are good reasons for that.

"This is really - in my mind - kind of a statement year for us," Heath said Wednesday afternoon. "I think teams go through rebuilding. I don't ever want to go through rebuilding again. It's not fun. I want to go through reloading and I think that is where we are."

This is not a season where sights are set low.

"Our goals are to win the SEC Tournament, to win the SEC West, to win our home games here at Bud Walton where we were 15-1 last year and we not only want to get to the NCAA Tournament, but we want to advance," Heath said. "Those are the things we have talked about with our basketball team. It is a long season in front of us, it's a marathon and we have got a lot of work to do, but we are very excited to get after it."

Not often would you hear a coach say that after going 22-10 and losing three 1,000-point scorers in Ronnie Brewer, Jonathon  Modica and Eric  Ferguson, but Heath is adamant about it.

"Losing Brewer, losing Modica and even Ferguson - three 1,000-point scorers - is a heavy loss and I realize that," Heath said. "We are not trying to replace one guy with one guy. It is just not going to work that way. You don't replace a lottery pick and somebody else just pops in there like that.

"But I think with a balanced approach, with improving in other areas - whether it be exceptional speed or a stronger front line, if we become a great defensive team which this team has the ability to do in some ways - and I am always one of those guys that has the glass half-full, we possibly could be a better team."

Arkansas will have an event called Razorback Hoop Media Friday night with the doors opening at 9:15 p.m., a dunk contest beginning at 9:40 p.m. and a scrimmage starting at 10 p.m. in which the two teams will play two 20-minute halves.

The Razorbacks will then get back at it on Saturday with two practices - the first one open to fans at 10 a.m.

"We are real excited to get started here," Heath said. "We have had a really good fall. We have really tested them and put them through a lot of things just to challenge them and find out how tough they are. We did Cleveland Hill the other day about 6 a.m. and I don't think guys like that too much, but they all got it done and I was pleased with that."

Arkansas returns a solid front court contingent of in juniors Steven Hill (7-0, 250), Darian Townes (6-10, 254), Charles Thomas (6-8, 235), Vincent Hunter (6-10, 225) and Cyrus McGowan (6-9, 236) - a group that will be joined by 6-10, 235-pound true freshman Michael Washington.

It also returns guards Sean McCurdy (6-1, 186) and Preston Cranford (6-7, 214) and adds in a talented mix of perimeter newcomers in junior transfer point guard Gary Ervin (6-0, 176) small forward Sonny Weems (6-6, 201) and freshman guards Patrick Beverley (6-1, 172) and Stefan Welsh (6-2, 180).

"I like our size, our speed, I really think we've got a a good head on our shoulders with some smarts," Heath said. "Our point guard play might be the best we have had since I've been here. I really think between Ervin, McCurdy and Beverley a little bit that those guys have a real good feel of getting guys involved, showing leadership and setting a defensive presence there at the point. It gets you easy baskets, which is something that I think we have a hard time doing."

There is no doubt that Weems will be the most high-flying and electric newcomer per Heath.

"I am pleased with a guy like Sonny Weems," Heath said. "He is a guy that is a flyer, gets up and down the court very well, he plays above the rim. He has different ways he can score with a mid-range game or pull ups or offensive rebounds. I think he has a chance to be a very big impact player for us right away."

Heath noted that Ervin has become the team's leader on the court and Hill has also stepped up in that department.

"There has been leadership from several different guys, but clearly Ervin and Hill have probably done the most in terms of being pro-active and going out going out of the way, doing things that aren't required from the coaching staff to build the team, to help a team to become closer - whether it be having a bowling night or going to a leadership conference. Those guys have set that tone."

Ervin will also be a key in getting the ball to those big guys.

"I think this is the year we have got to get more involvement out of our big guys," Heath said. "They have got to get more touches. I expect us to get them the ball a little bit more, but I also expect those guys to rebound more.

"If there is one area that I want our team to improve on - and I look back at stats whether you look at conference stats or season stats - it is rebounding," Heath said. "We were the third highest scoring team in the league - scoring really wasn't an issue. We played at a good pace and we probably naturally play a little faster pace because we have had natural speed out there that is better than what we had, but if we rebound a little more it will translate into more fastbreaks, translate into more offense with putbacks.

"A second area would be that three-point shooting and the three-point defense," Heath said.

Heath now has a team full of players that come from winning programs - ones that have won over 30 games, state championships and expect to be successful.

"You hear that in the way they talk," Heath said. "They talk more about we, they talk more about winning, they talk more about doing other things, not just how many points can I score...That's a great thing, a great thing."


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