In Shape, With No Cast, Weems Ready For Start

FAYETTEVILLE -- Sonny Weems and his teammates had it bad this past month. Day after day, Arkansas strength coaches Don Decker and Kelly Lambert inched the Razorbacks closer to the condition first-year coach John Pelphrey demands for his up-tempo system.

So the Razorbacks, Weems included, all gutted through 110-yard dashes. They all sprinted up and down stadium steps. They all ran on campus.

But Weems had it much worse. While the Arkansas basketball team spent much of the rest of September participating in individual workouts, Weems watched from the sideline with a cast on his left hand.

And actually, he spectated only part of the time. Lambert found ways to occupy Weems' other free minutes.

"I thought I was on the track team the way I was running," Weems said. "He had me running up and down the bleachers, running around campus. I was like, 'This ain't the track team, man. This ain't the Tyson Invitational.'

"But it was like that, and I needed it."

Weems beamed about his improved endurance Tuesday. Many of his teammates did the same during the Razorbacks' media day in Bud Walton Arena. But Weems was especially talkative about his recent running exploits. Hard to blame the small forward, one of six seniors on Pelphrey's first team in Fayetteville.

Since breaking his non-shooting hand in a practice on Aug. 28, Weems has barely picked up a basketball. Until getting a soft cast removed Monday, he hadn't shot beyond five feet. He could dribble with his right hand. That's about all. And even then, frustration mounted every time he bothered to pick up a ball.

"I was frustrated," Weems said. "After a while, I just stopped it."

Weems wasn't alone in his frustrations. Pelphrey was devastated by the injury. At the time of the break, Pelphrey said Weems had been impressive during his first few days of practice, even more so than Pelphrey had expected. The manner in which the injury occurred also perturbed Pelphrey and Weems.

Going for a loose ball, Weems collided with guard Patrick Beverley and felt a slight discomfort in his hand. Just a simple on-court collision, and Weems' hand was broken. Then, Weems said he hurt the hand even worse when a student on campus zoomed by on a scooter and bumped his hand.

Subsequently, Weems missed the Hogs' exhibition trip to Cancun, Mexico. He wore a hard cast for two weeks, joking with his doctor, "Doesn't it need to stay on longer?" He then donned the soft cast for another four weeks. All the while, he remained positive. He showed why his place as a leader on Pelphrey's first Arkansas team is solidified.

He watched most individual workouts, soaking in knowledge and encouraging teammates.

"I don't think he's been frustrated, because you get to see a lot of things from the sideline," Arkansas point guard Gary Ervin said. "He's got the attitude and the mindset. And, from talking to him, he kind of had fun during it all. It's not fun to be injured. But he made the best of the situation.

"He always makes us laugh."

That's not hard to imagine, not from a guy whose motto for team chemistry is, "You can't buy it at Wal-Mart, you just have to hang out a lot." Pelphrey can't wait, though, for Weems' role to shift from off-court entertaining to on-court contributing.

All expect that to happen Friday night, when the Razorbacks start the season with an open-to-the-public practice. And Pelphrey trusts that Weems, despite the injury, will be ready to jump in at full strength.

"I'm not sure how much (conditioning) he has been doing," Pelphrey said. "But Sonny keeps telling me that's not an issue."

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