Ervin Taking Leadership Role Seriously

FAYETTEVILLE — Before every game, normally right before tip-off, Vincent Hunter grabs Gary Ervin with both arms and gives Arkansas' junior point guard a little shake.

With a stern voice, he utters just four words.

"Vincent always tells me, ‘Captain, it starts with you,'" Ervin said. "That's just something that's taken a toll. Every time I could and play hard, my teammates do also."

Ervin, who Monday was named the Southeastern Conference Player of the Week, has embraced his leadership responsibilities with increasing seriousness as the season has progressed.

In Arkansas' past two games, both victories, the 6-foot transfer from Mississippi State scored 41 points, dished out 11 assists and grabbed 11 rebounds.

At the most important time of a season that looked dead a week ago, Ervin decided to personify the leader Arkansas has needed during every hour of every day.

Earlier, as the Hogs struggled through the middle of their schedule, Ervin didn't affect the Razorbacks in a positive way all the time.

"When I've come out lackadaisical, my teammates have fed off me," Ervin said. "I had to kind of learn the hard way."

Many teammates have noticed a more focused, more intense attitude from Ervin. His fellow starter in the backcourt, freshman Patrick Beverley, said Ervin's acceptance of and response to some early criticism was impressive.

"Gary faced a whole bunch of criticism (for his early play), and it just shows his character how he's been able to fight back from that," Beverley said. "We know now that he's going to keep playing for us, and we've been following his lead."

Ervin's statistics reveal that his contributions are integral to Arkansas' success.

Undoubtedly, the Razorbacks are fully capable of winning if Ervin experiences difficulties.

When asked Monday who Arkansas' MVP is, Stan Heath replied "everybody." Arkansas' coach realizes his team can thrive despite a less than stellar effort from Ervin. It's never likely, though.

Ervin has struggled in seven of Arkansas' nine conference losses and has played well in all of the Hogs' conference victories.

Some of Ervin's finest performances, in addition to his consecutive games with at least 20 points in recent wins over Mississippi State and at Vanderbilt, include:

• An 18-point, 11-assist and six-rebound effort in Arkansas' 88-61 victory on Jan. 6 over then-No. 8 Alabama.

• An 11-point and seven-assist output in the Hogs' 72-52 win on Jan. 20 over then-No. 16 LSU.

• An 18-point outburst in the Razorbacks' 65-57 victory on Feb. 7 over Auburn.

• A seven-point, eight-assist showing in Arkansas' 83-66 win on Feb. 17 over Ole Miss.

A trend has formed. Usually, Arkansas goes as Ervin does.

And lately, that has meant intensity, passion and heart. In each of the recent victories, Ervin has hustled chase down a loose ball and throw it off a defender as he's flown out of bounds.

He didn't do those things in December.

"I wouldn't say he's limited as a leader," Beverley said. "He gets us motivated for games. He's a veteran, and he's been through it before."

As for his increase in offensive productivity, Ervin has merely restrained himself from playing out of control. Heath said Ervin simply started to show more patience.

Ervin couldn't argue with that.

"I've been just letting things come to me," Ervin said. " Early in the season, I think there were some games where I could've scored like that, but it was more important to get my teammates involved, to get them comfortable."

Now, the Razorbacks' comfort level with Ervin has skyrocketed. Ervin now accepts, and embraces, their reliance on his him, especially on the defensive end where Arkansas led the SEC in field-goal percentage during conference play.

"I just don't want to disappoint them," Ervin said. "They're all looking to me. I can't let them down. I have to play as hard as I can every second I'm out here, in practice or in a game. Because if I'm playing hard, then they usually are."

Hill Chops Hair

Arkansas center Steven Hill sported a new look Monday. The 7-foot junior had several inches of hair cut off, sporting a hairdo that had Razorbacks trainer Dave England comparing Hill to Ringo Starr, the former drummer for The Beatles.

"I just got sick of it," Hill said. "I did it (Sunday). It's OK. I don't hate it."



Thomas Sits Out

Sick with a stomach illness, Hogs forward Charles Thomas sat out Monday's practice.

"He just came down with a little bug over the weekend," Heath said.

That opened up some important practice time for 6-foot-10 freshman Michael Washington. Washington established career-highs with 15 points and six rebounds Saturday in Arkansas' victory at Vanderbilt.

THURSDAY'S TICKET

ARKANSAS VS. SOUTH CAROLINA

WHEN: 2:15 p.m. TV: KHOG (Cable channel 7)

WHERE: Georgia Dome, Atlanta

RECORDS: Arkansas Razorbacks, 18-12, 7-9 Southeastern Conference; South Carolina, 14-15, 4-12

RADIO: KXIO-FM 106.9; KEZA-FM 107.9; KKEG-FM 92.1; KFPW-AM 1230; KQBK-FM 104.7; KHGG-AM 1580; KHGG-FM 103.1; KDYN-AM 1540; KDYN-FM 96.7; KTTG-FM 96.3

COACHES: Arkansas, Stan Heath (79-69, 5th season; 109-74 overall, 6 seasons); South Carolina, Dave Odom (114-85, 6th season; 392-259 overall, 21 seasons)

SERIES: Arkansas leads 11-7 (Each school has won once in neutral-site games)

LAST SEASON: South Carolina won 66-60 on Jan. 24 in Columbia, S.C.

ERVIN BREAKDOWN

Arkansas point guard Gary Ervin has played well in every one of the Razorbacks' seven Southeastern Conference victories. The 6-foot junior has struggled in seven of the Hogs' nine SEC losses.

In a Jan. 9 loss at Florida, Ervin scored 11 points, had nine assists and committed just one turnover. In a Feb. 10 defeat at LSU, Ervin tallied 16 points, snagged five rebounds and dished out three assists.

Ervin's statistics in per Arkansas SEC win:

Points Assists Turnovers Field-Goal Percentage

3-Point Percentage Free-Throw Percentage 12.1 5.00 2.6 58.3 50.0 79.4

Ervin's statistics in per Arkansas SEC loss:

7.6 4.6 3.1 39.3 27.2 60.0


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