Arkansas Basketball

FAYETTEVILLE -- Some basketball coaches prefer their power forwards bulky. They want physicality out of them. They want bruisers. Basically, they want offensive linemen who are athletic enough to at least not trip over themselves on the way up and down the court.

Arkansas coach John Pelphrey's idea of a power forward differs considerably. His teams press. His teams push tempo. His teams require a player who can also function at the other forward position -- the "small" one.

"Our power forward has to be one of our best athletes," Pelphrey said. "He has to be our toughest guy, our best-in-shape guy. He's up top on the press, and he has to trigger our offense after made baskets. In this system, you have to have a great point guard. But the power forward for us is nearly as important."

That said, Pelphrey admits to feeling fortunate for his trio of power forwards at Arkansas, which opens its regular season Friday night at home against Wofford.

The starter, 6-foot-8 senior Charles Thomas, has lost about 25 pounds since Pelphrey's arrival. The backup, 6-10 sophomore Michael Washington, possess above-average speed for his size and can knock down 3-pointers with ease. Even the No. 3 player at the position, 6-8 freshman Michael Sanchez, "has a bright future" at the position, Pelphrey said.

Thomas said the transformation to Pelphrey's kind of power forward hasn't been easy and hasn't ended.

"It's a tough spot to play for this team," Thomas said. "You have to be able to make plays. I mean, I never thought I'd be chasing down guards after every time we scored. But that's what it's like now. It's all about high intensity and a lot of pressure."

Their job requirements are plentiful.

Defensively, they must guard the inbounds pass after every score. They must trap often in the backcourt. And they must recover quickly to get back into Arkansas' half-court defense.

"We try to get our hands on any ball we can," Thomas said.

Offensively, they must snag the ball out of the basket after an opposing score as quickly as possible and fire a pass to the Razorbacks' point guard. These Hogs won't just run after missed shots. They hope to score quickly off makes, as well. As the trailing player in Arkansas' secondary break, they might receive the ball back as they arrive around the top of the key.

And Pelphrey wants his power forwards to have the ability to do numerous things with the ball. He wants them to be efficient passers, confident shooters and aggressive drivers. He sees those characteristics, or at least potential of them, in all three of his power forwards.

Arkansas' first-year coach uses Jamal Mashburn, his teammate at Kentucky, as an example.

"Jamal didn't have a position in college," Pelphrey said. "He played whichever one he wanted to play. If he wanted to bring the ball up the floor, he'd bring the ball up the floor. If he wanted to post up, we put him in the post."

Pelphrey doesn't expect Thomas, Washington or Sanchez to turn into Mashburn overnight. But he has been impressed in Arkansas' practices and two exhibition games.

Washington offered up a five-minute glimpse Tuesday night of how an athletic power forward can disrupt an opponent.

In just five first-half minutes, Washington recorded four steals, all as the point man on Arkansas' full-court press. Twice, he simply took the ball from a Campbellsville (Ky.) guard and dunked it.

"It's a lot of small things," Pelphrey said, "but they're all important."

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