Arkansas Will Have Plenty Of New Faces

FAYETTEVILLE — Eventually, talk turned to the recruiting class Arkansas coach John Pelphrey has assembled for 2008, the one ranked sixth in the nation by No one could blame Pelphrey for starting his Thursday news conference wanting to speak about the six seniors who recently played their last games as Razorbacks.

He thanked them for their openness and resiliency throughout an up-and-down 23-12 season and complimented each of them individually. But eventually, Pelphrey spent a good portion of the 37-minute presser looking forward, discussing the new faces that will dot next season's roster.

After all, the Razorbacks must replace more than most teams around the country.

"We're losing 70 percent of our scoring, 63 percent of our rebounding and 63 percent of our assists," Pelphrey said. "That means we have 30 percent of our scoring, 37 percent of our rebounding and 37 percent of our assists back. As daunting as that is, there will be wonderful opportunities for somebody.

"You don't know how (the new) guys will respond."

They surely won't have to wait to show how. Sophomore guards Patrick Beverley and Stefan Welsh and freshman Marcus Britt are the only backcourt players returning who played meaningful minutes in 2007-08. Sophomore forward Michael Washington is the only big man back, meaning Pelphrey will have no seniors on his second team in Fayetteville.

So, yes, these newcomers will be asked to contribute early.

Pelphrey has signed five players thus far to letters of intent for 2008, and the Razorbacks are expected to sign at least one more recruit. Freshman forward Michael Sanchez also becomes eligible for the Hogs after a redshirt season. Pelphrey has one scholarship remaining and is recruiting junior college shooters and post players for that spot.

Of course, he always could sign more than one player if a current Razorback left Arkansas. Pelphrey said he didn't know of anyone planning to transfer but did state that "addition and subtraction" is part of every offseason.

Pelphrey singled out each player in the class, which was ranked No. 14 by a different recruiting service and left out of the top 25 by another. In particular, he sounded optimistic about the backcourt duo of Courtney Fortson and Rotnei Clarke.

Fortson, a 5-foot-11, 175-pounder, was one of the prep school ranks' top point guards this season — at The Patterson School in North Carolina. He was named Mr. Alabama basketball in 2007. Clarke, a 6-foot sharpshooter ranked the No. 14 point guard in the country by, shattered the career scoring record for Oklahoma High Schools. Clarke figures to be more of a shooting guard at Arkansas.

"With Courtney, Rotnei and Patrick Beverley, we have the chance to have guys who play off each other," Pelphrey said.

A player quite similar to outgoing senior Sonny Weems looks to fill his that vacant spot. Daniel Payne, a 6-7 swingman from Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College, should see plenty of minutes in 2008-09.

"He has very good size for a wing," Pelphrey said. "He can play four different positions and he can guard four positions. He needs to get in here and work. I love his competitive nature. He doesn't take a play off."

Pelphrey also brings in 6-9 forwards Brandon Moore, of Holy Cross High in New Orleans, La., and Andre Clark, of Genesis One School in Mendenhall, Miss., and North Little Rock High.

Both must gain weight to succeed in the SEC, but both can handle the ball, shoot well from the outside and create mismatches. Pelphrey also had this to add on Sanchez, the 6-8 redshirt forward from Springdale Har-Ber.

"He got better during the year," Pelphrey said. "He's a tremendous handler and passer for a guy his size. I love Michael Sanchez. Is he an all-league player? I don't know, we all aspire to that, but I know I can go to battle with him."

The type of team Pelphrey ideally wants has started to take shape. With these additions, Arkansas should play a bit more up-tempo, shoot more from the outside and spend more time pressing man-to-man.

Sure, the Razorbacks will lack experience. But a feeling of familiarity will heighten expectations, evident from the way Pelphrey responded to a question about whether the NCAA Tournament was a realistic goal for 2008-09.

"Whether it is or not," he said. "It's our goal. If it's not realistic then we have to overachieve to make it happen."


Arkansas has five high school or junior college players signed to letters of intent for its 2008 recruiting class. The Razorbacks are expected to sign at least one more recruit, and forward Michael Sanchez also becomes eligible for the Hogs after a redshirt season.

Andre Clark, 6-9, 205, Genesis One School (Mendenhall, Miss.) and North Little Rock High. Will be a freshman.

• Clark enrolled at Arkansas for the spring semester and practiced with the Razorbacks. He possesses above-average ball-handling and outside-shooting skills for his size but must get stronger.

Rotnei Clarke, 6-0, 170, Verdigris (Okla.) High. Will be a freshman.

• Clarke left Verdigris the distinction of being the highest scorer in Oklahoma prep history, as well as this year's state championship. Clarke immediately improves Arkansas' 3-point shooting.

Courtney Fortson, 5-11, 175, The Patterson School (N.C.) and Jefferson Davis High (Montgomery, Ala.). Will be a freshman.

• Fortson won the 2007 Mr. Basketball award in Alabama and thrived in prep school this season. Fortson is a pure point guard who makes good decisions and could eventually provide leadership.

Brandon Moore, 6-9, 215, Holy Cross High (New Orleans, La.). Will be a freshman.

• Moore, who played his sophomore season in Arkansas because of Hurricane Katrina, is a lot like Clark: Long, athletic and able to knock down the 3. Moore will provide further frontcourt depth.

Daniel Payne, 6-7, 210, Coffeyville Community College (Kan.) and Clay High School (South Bend, Ind.). Will be a junior.

• Payne led Coffeyville in scoring and displayed his versatility all season long. He played several different positions in high school and junior college and should do the same at Arkansas.

Michael Sanchez, 6-8, 231, Springdale Har-Ber High. Will be a freshman.

• Sanchez, who redshirted this season, repeatedly draws the praise of Arkansas coach John Pelphrey. His passing abilities and overall toughness will get him on the floor consistently.

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