Hogs ready to begin Pelphrey era

It's a long time before most of the college basketball world begins 2007-08 practices, but Arkansas will get started on Tuesday under new coach John Pelphrey and it's OK with the NCAA.

Arkansas begins 10 days of basketball practices on Tuesday in preparation for a Labor Day weekend trip to Cancun for some exhibition games. For new coach John Pelphrey, it's more about the practices than the games.

"We certainly want to try to do well in our games there, but it's more (about) the practices," Pelphrey told the assembled media at Walton Arena on Monday.

Pelphrey isn't messing around with the workouts. The new coach is trying to get his money's worth right out of the chute.

"We'll go three hours the first day," he said. "We've got 10 workouts and we'll probably go four or five in a row and then give them a day off. I don't want to destroy their bodies and get anyone hurt.

"I am more concerned with the next 10 days here than I am of what we do in the games there, though."

Over those next 10 days Pelphrey will also be concerned about what he sees on The Weather Channel. Hurricane Dean is bearing down on Cancun where the Hogs are headed in two weeks.

"I lived in Mobile (where he coached South Alabama ) and I am very aware of hurricanes," Pelphrey said. "I watch The Weather Channel. Hurricanes have awesome power. We will be watching what Dean does down there."

And, he'll be watching for effort on the practice floor, too.

In a 30-minute visit with the media, Pelphrey hit on playing hard over and over. It seemed like it was in every third sentence.

"That's him," said senior forward Sonny Weems. "He wants us playing hard. He wants toughness. That's what he keeps talking to us about, too.

"We are going to play hard. He demands it. We are going to press and we are going to play defense."

The key, Weems said, will be conditioning. He said this Arkansas team will be better conditioned that last year's if summer workouts are an indication.

"When I came here last summer, I didn't think they worked very hard," he said. "Now, I see a difference. This team is working hard. We are better conditioned."

Senior center Stephen Hill sees a difference, too. It starts with an emphasis on conditioning from the coaching staff.

"In the past, we played pickup games and lifted weights in the summer," Hill said. "We didn't run in the summer. We added conditioning to what we did this summer. It wasn't all about the pickup games. Now, we still played pickup games. But we ran, too.

"I know we aren't ready for October and for games yet, but we are starting off in a lot better shape."

Pelphrey said his new players haven't seen anything yet.

"What we are going to do the next few days, yes, there will be a lot of running," Pelphrey said. "That will happen very quickly."

Pelphrey has several keys in his philosophy, but playing hard is the central theme, along with team unity.

"If we can do two things, it would be to play hard every day and to serve each other," he said. "Serving each other -- you have to understand the real meaning, do less so the team does more. It sounds elementary, but both of those are huge.

"Serving each other may mean right now, going to class every day. Go to class, so you can reach your potential. It means doing what is right when you are away from the court. That attitude is critical."

Later, he came back to playing hard as a theme.

"I think playing hard gets mis-used a lot," he said. "So does the word great. Great is a common word. I don't think what we define as playing hard is like what everyone talks about.

"I wasn't very talented. I knew if I didn't play above my ability, I wasn't going to be very good. We have to get our players out of their comfort zone.

"What you are looking for are over achievers with some talent. Then you have a chance to be great. I want guys who go after loose balls and rebounds. I want players who understand it is a team game about unity. Unity is something that is to be developed and nurtured and then protected."

That's something he sees as one of Patrick Beverley's strengths. Pelphrey saw his sophomore guard play in an exhibition for Team USA in Dallas earlier in the summer.

"What I noticed is that he came onto the court with his shirt tucked in and his shorts tight," Pelphrey said. "He was ready to go from the time he left the locker room."

Beverley has worked hard on his game throughout the summer, from workouts with Team USA to weekends in Little Rock with Joe Johnson and a few weeks at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion with NBA regulars.

"First, I tried to get better every day," Beverley said. "Last year I relied on my three-point shot too much. I relied on it even when I was tired at the end of games. I worked on other things this summer to become a better player. I worked on trying to create space for my shot and help my teammates. I think I've a better player."

Weems thinks he helped his game, too, doing some of the same things.

"My coaches told me that if I develop some more things that I have a chance to be a special player," Weems said. "One of the things they stressed was taking the ball to the basket, getting to the rim. That's what I worked on."

Weems also improved his upper body strength. He wore a tank top Monday, displaying massive shoulder muscles.

"I'm much stronger," he said. "I think I'm a lot better player."

He wore wrist bands that said "strength."

"I worked hard on my upper body," he said. "I think that's going to help me get to the rim."

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