New University of Arkansas head basketball coach John Pelphrey and assistant Tom Ostrom will begin revving up the Razorbacks' hoops recruiting efforts in the next few days.
The pair – and possibly another hire or two – will be hitting the road to evaluate prospects this weekend at both the Houston Kingwood Classic and the Pittsburgh Jam Fest AAU events.
"We will be in both Houston and Pittsburgh this weekend," Ostrom said. "There are two major tournaments and we are going to be all over both of them."
The 37-year-old Ostrom, who was an assistant under Billy Donovan at Florida for seven years and for the past three at South Alabama under Pelphrey, is excited about the prospect of recruiting for Arkansas.
"I think John used this at the press conference – this is indeed a dream job," Ostrom said. "As an assistant coach – or a head coach – if you go down and make a list of the top 10 jobs in America, you have to include Arkansas.
"I've always been in love with this place because we played in here, know what they did going to back-to-back national title games and know that you can accomplish anything here," Ostrom said. "This is the highest level you can get to as far as fan support, facilities, administration, everything.
"When John told me that he was interviewing for the job, I almost didn't want to get my hopes up too much, but when he called back and said we've got the job, I couldn't wait to get here and start working for Arkansas because I really think we can do special things here."
Arkansas has at least one – and possibly as many as three - additional scholarships for the 2007 spring signing period to go along with early signee Nate Rakestraw of Springdale Har-Ber.
The pair visited Monday with Har-Ber power forward Michael Sanchez, who still has not decided whether he will go to Findley Prep School and be a 2008 prospect or sign with someone from a group that includes Arkansas, Kentucky, Wake Forest, Tennessee and New Mexico.
"We may have one or two scholarships here late and really don't know exactly right now what that number will be," Ostrom said. "But we have got some players we are involved with via different avenues and we'll see how things turn out."
Adding more talent in 2007 would help reconfigure a team that will have six seniors next season.
"For whatever reason the classes aren't balanced and anyone who can just read a roster knows that," Ostrom said. "Our goal is to try and balance out the classes a little bit. That's important, especially with guys leaving for the NBA and things like that."
Ostrom says there are both good and bad things about having a large amount of scholarships available for 2008.
"I would say the advantages are that with losing so many upperclassman, you are able to sell kids on having immediate playing time," Ostrom said. "It's not like back in the day when John redshirted his first year, didn't play much his first year of eligibility and then by the time he was a fifth year senior he was as good as anyone in the country.
"Most people aren't that patient anymore," Ostrom added. "People want to come in and play major minutes in the best conference in the country and do it at a prestigious institution like the University of Arkansas. That is something that is going to be appealing to a lot of people.
"Obviously the challenge – and we just talked about relationships - is that if you have six scholarships and say hypothetically you recruit four guys for every scholarship, it is hard to build personal relationships with 24 kids given the recruiting rules today.
"There are so many rules now on how many times you can call them, how many times you can meet them face-to-face, how many times you can go to their house," Ostrom added. "If you are recruiting such a high number, it is going to be hard for the kids to get to know us an for us to really get to know the kids the way we truly want to.
"The NCAA makes it hard to build those kind of relationships, but you can do it and it just makes it more challenging than it used to be.
So what type of guys will the new UA staff be looking to sign?
"The number one thing John always says is that the guy has got to be selfless," Ostrom said. "John always uses that basketball is not an individual sport – it's not tennis, it's not golf, it's not swimming.
"To all of us coaches, the most important thing on the court – not away from it but on the court – is to win the game," Ostrom added. "When John played that was the only thing that mattered to him.
"We think if you are selfless to your teammates, selfless to the team, selfless to the University, all the individual accolades will come," Ostrom continued. "Nobody knows how many points Joakim Noah scored last year, nobody knows how many points Corey Brewer averaged. All they know is that Florida won back-to-back national titles.
"Here, no one knows how many points a game Corliss Williamson scored or Todd Day scored, they just know they were part of great, great teams," Ostrom said. "They are revered here because their teams won, not because they averaged 30 points a game."
Of course, Arkansas can now sell playing the up-tempo, pressure defense style again like it did during Nolan Richardson's successful 17-year tenure.
"It is the only thing we know," Ostrom said. "I know Coach Richardson had a tremendous run of success playing that style of play when Arkansas was as good if not better than any other program in the country. John played that way under Rick Pitino and he has coached that way under Coach Donovan.
"I have only had two bosses in my life in Billy Donovan and John Pelphrey and that is the only thing we know. We give the guys a tremendous amount of freedom on offense and make the other team work to get the ball up the court and shorten the shot clock."
Pelphrey and Ostrom will get their first look at the state's AAU squads with the Arkansas Hawks playing in Pittsburgh and the Arkansas Wings and Arkansas Kings among those playing in Houston.
"The first thing we have to do is build from the inside out – what I mean is that we have got to do the best job we can in the state of Arkansas," Ostrom said. "We are the University of Arkansas and we say that with a great deal of pride so we have got to do the best job with the players from Arkansas, the coaches from Arkansas, the people of Arkansas. Nothing will be more important to us.
"We have got to build walls around the state of Arkansas," Ostrom said. "Anyone who is talented enough to play in the SEC at this level considers very, very strongly the University of Arkansas. Those will be the most important people to us."
But Ostrom – like Pelphrey did at his press conference – made it clear that this staff intends to recruit nationally.
"We have been doing this for awhile," Ostrom said. "We are not old-timers by any means, but we have been doing this long enough that we have recruiting ties everywhere. We know a high school coach and a summer coach in every state in the union. Then it is up for them and us to decide if a particular player is the best fit for us or if we are the best fit."
While at Florida and South Alabama, Ostrom and Pelphrey were in on recruiting players from New York, Michigan, Missouri, South Dakota, West Virginia, California, Washington D.C. and many other places.
"Joakim Noah is from everywhere depending on what day of the week you ask him, but grew up in New York,' Ostrom joked. "Obviously Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi and Louisiana were very important to us there and will be very important to us here in Arkansas."
He says recruiting is based mostly on building great relationships.
"To me it is relationships," Ostrom said. "I take great pride in that anyone I coached at Florida and anyone I coached at South Alabama, I still have a relationship with. Anyone I have worked with or for, I still have a relationship with.
"I got into this business not to make a lot of money and not to win national championships – although those are great things if they happen along the way and there is nothing wrong with them - but to build relationships with the people I work for and work with and the players and their families. And I am not just talking about one, two, three or four-year relationships, but lifetime ones."
Ostrom admits that he takes great pride in what has happened at Florida lately with the back-to-back national titles.
"I know almost everybody on the team personally, recruited some of them, coached some of them and obviously know every one on staff and athletic director Jeremy Foley," Ostrom said. "I couldn't be happier for them and it couldn't happen to a better group of people."
But Ostrom - a native of Minnesota and former manager at the University of Minnesota under Clem Haskins - says he is all about Arkansas right now.
"We are tickled to be here, very honored to be here and we realize what a responsibility we have to this school, to this administration and to this state to carry on this great tradition," Ostrom said.
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