Stan Heath, his staff and the Razorback basketball team, in uniform, met the press this afternoon. A partial transcript of Coach Heath's remarks follows this report. A few things not in the transcript:
Coach Heath reiterated that "This is NOT a rebuilding year.We are not interested in what we are going to be doing next year. We're planning to win right now" he said "We are here to play for a championship." When asked how he and the team reacted to being picked 5th or 6th in the Division Heath pointed out that the same thing applied to his Kent State team last year... they were picked well down in their league. He said "I'm not going to say it doesn't bother me. It does bother me bacasue it is a lack of respect. But I'm not going to let that determine who we are."
In an earlier conversation with one of the assistants I learned that Coach Heath believes the talent level on this team is on a level with what he had at Kent State last year.
The team morale is high. To a man they are enthusiastic and confident of having a successful year. They all acknowledge that the skill development sessions and the conditioning periods were gruelling but beneficial.
Wen Mukubu acknowledged that the NCAA episode was troubling for him, and he was so happy when Coach Heath called a team meeting and announced to the team that Wen was now officially a member of the team. Wen came to the United States four years ago from Zaire, and has not seen his mother, who is now in Belgium, for four years. He talked to his dad recently and he is hoping that he will be able to come see him play.
I asked Rashard Sullivan how the coaching change affecteed him. He said, " I was concerned, but I heard a lot of good things about coach Heath. I took everything into consideration and I decided to stay." When I asked him how he feels about that now he said without hesitation, "I made a good decision."
In talking with Kendrick Davis about the possibility of having to play some at the point he said he's O.K. with that... that he played point guard a lot his senior year in high school.
When I asked Eric Ferguson if the idea of playing the point in the SEC as a freshman worried him he quickly said matter-of-factly "No, that doesnt bother me at all. I have played against guys who are in the pros and I have played in pickup games with guys who are in the pros, so that doesn't worry me. This is what I do."
I asked Pookie what he wanted fans to know about Pookie. He said, "I'd like them to know that I'm a great guy and a team player. I'm ready to play. My team is ready to play." He said that wasn't the case after their first skill development session, when things seemed to be going so fast that they all felt a little lost. But by the second session they were beginning to get the drift and it has continued to get better.
Here's the transcript of the comments from Heath at his press conference Thursday afternoon:
The team's strength:
"We have depth. We can play two guys at every position, except point guard. We also have some versatility. We have several guys who can play in different spots. We have six older guys (seniors) and five freshmen with Michael Jones (sophomore) in the middle. I feel like we've bridged that gap with our workouts. We have a small margin for error. How we rebound and defend is important. This is not a rebuilding year. We're playing to win right now. We're playing for a championship."
Players adjusting to a different style:
"Anytime you have change and do things differently, there's going to be an adjustment period. Once they catch on, I believe they will be fine. We have intelligent guys and they will pick things up quickly."
Offensive and defensive systems:
"We're going to implement things right away. By the time we play our first game, we will not have everything in, but we'll be ready for that game. I'm one of those guys that adds things as we go."
Freshmen guards (Kendrick Davis and Eric Ferguson):
"Any coach would love to have experienced guards, but that's not the case. Eric and Kendrick both wanted to be in this situation. They wanted to accept the challenge. Eric is a true point guard. Kendrick can play both but probably has more of a scoring mentality. Charles (Tatum) has done a good job talking to them and giving them an idea of what it takes to play in the SEC. His leadership has been very helpful."
"We tried to enhance their strengths and work on their weaknesses. From the first player through the 14th, every guy gave tremendous effort. That, to me, has been very pleasing."
"It's wide open. The experienced guys have an advantage because there are some things they know the younger guys don't know. I'm more concerned about getting nine or 10 guys ready to play. They will earn their playing time. We have depth and I want to utilize that."
"Midnight Madness is for the fans. We want it to be fun for the fans and for the players. When it's over with, it's down to business."