Contrasts in Comfort

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Gary Ervin and Patrick Beverley locked eyes for an instant, just long enough for Ervin to think Beverley was ready for a pass. But he wasn't prepared for a feed during Arkansas' practice Wednesday morning at The Milk House at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla.

Beverley cut toward the basket. Ervin flung the ball out of bounds. Stan Heath blew his whistle, grimacing at the mistake.

Moments like this remind the Razorbacks' fifth-year coach how much acclimating his players still need to do with one another.

"We've got to grow up in a hurry," Heath said. "Because that team we're playing (today), they've got a pretty big edge in experience."

Arkansas opens the Old Spice Classic at 11 a.m. today by facing Southern Illinois, a team with as much continuity and familiarity as any in all of Division I basketball. The Razorbacks (2-0) may earn that distinction next season. Then, Heath will bring back every player on his roster.

Salukis coach Chris Lowery is enjoying a similar situation now.

Southern Illinois (2-0) returned its top eight scorers, including all five starters, from a squad that went 21-11 and won the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament last season.

So whereas the Salukis will look smooth, fluid and comfortable today, Arkansas could experience the same growing pains Ervin and Beverley did Wednesday.

"We're just looking to find an identity for ourselves," Ervin said. "We're a very talented bunch, and we've had a few ups and downs in the first couple games. But the best is yet to come. I believe that."

The quality of the Hogs' individual talent is undeniable. Sonny Weems' production in Arkansas' victory over Stephen F. Austin on Saturday (24 points, 11 rebounds) surpassed even Heath's early season expectations. Steven Hill has blocked seven shots in each of the Hogs' first two games. Ervin is showing maturity and leadership. Vincent Hunter is exhibiting improved athleticism and endless hustle. Beverley is looking like the freshman scorer the Razorbacks needed.

But, as Heath constantly beckons, the talents of individuals do little to help a team win when they don't mesh. And no one, not Heath nor any of his players, thinks the Hogs are where they need to be chemistry-wise. Even if the team's togetherness is at its highest point since Heath's arrival at Arkansas.

The progress the Hogs have made in that area should be revealed beginning today in a tournament featuring six teams that qualified for the postseason last March.

"We've got to trust each other a little bit more," Weems said. "We tend to get a little beside ourselves. We get a little angry. We get a little frustrated. We can't do that. We just have to stop all that. We need to really sit down and see that we have to play team ball to go anywhere."

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