Juniors Taking Leadership Role Seriously

FAYETTEVILLE — Patrick Beverley tugs at the straps of his backpack, standing in the hallway adjacent to the Walker Pavilion weight room. With each turn of the hand Wednesday afternoon, the definition forms. Beverley arrived in Fayetteville two years ago a scrawny, scrappy guard from Chicago, but the muscles that bulge as he shifts the book bag really are his.

Beverley has added 20 pounds of bulk in four months. His body fat hasn't increased, either. But all the work, all the hours spent toiling in the weight room, hasn't been all about him. Far from that.

He knows all eyes are on him. Well, on him, Stefan Welsh and Michael Washington, anyway. Beverley realizes incoming freshmen such as Brandon Moore or Rotnei Clarke could be lurking around any corner. And Beverley wants them to see him working.

"The three of us are ready to lead, and that means going as hard as we can all the time and doing the right things on and off the court," Beverley said. "And that's all the time — on and off the court. I'll be honest, it's hard. But it's worth it."

Beverley, Welsh and Washington all embraced their newly anointed roles as Arkansas basketball leaders on Wednesday. They will be the lone juniors in 2008-09, joining seven new players on Arkansas coach John Pelphrey's second team. And no seniors are around after six graduated last season, taking 80 percent of the team's scoring, rebounding and assists with them.

So their development as leaders could decide whether Arkansas can weather being one of the youngest teams in the country.

"At this time, Patrick, Mike and Stef have done a very good job of looking out for our basketball team," Pelphrey said on Wednesday's Southeastern Conference basketball coaches teleconference. "That's going to be the biggest key to the season — how our juniors can lead."

Early returns are positive, according to players, coaches and Arkansas strength coach Kelly Lambert. Beverley isn't the only one who added weight. Moore and fellow power forward Andre Clark each packed on 20 more pounds of muscle.

For two hours each day, the Hogs have worked out with Lambert. They hit the weights. They do agility drills. They crunch abs. They run 40-yard dashes with mini-parachutes attached to their backs, as they did early Wednesday afternoon. Throughout it all, three players are always vocal, always eager to assist Lambert, and their positive energy immediately earned them respect.

"It's actually breathtaking," said Lambert, who called this summer's workouts the most productive in recent memory. "You saw them as freshmen, and you just never knew if this was going to happen, if it could happen. So it's refreshing to see them guiding these guys. The three upperclassmen aren't trying to stake territory. That's the thing. They're just trying to bring everyone along, trying to get them acclimated to college and trying to teach during pick-up games."

The most bonding takes place inside the HPER building, said Welsh, who "finally feels full love back for basketball." Every day, without fail, the Razorbacks hit the student rec center for pick-up games. Competition is fierce. Games are heated. And no coaches are present because of NCAA rules.

No official coaches, that is. Beverley, Welsh and Washington all take turns instructing and educating throughout the pick-up games, not hesitating to stop action to better explain a point or concept.

"We're trying to get them in our system," Washington said. "We want them to be ready for Coach Pelphrey. We want them to know about pick-and-rolls, to know about help defense, to know how to do a pick-and-pop.

"I take care of the posts and Pat and Stef take care of the guards."

All three must concentrate on keeping the team's focus on basketball. Welsh said he, Beverley and Washington fully grasp the message when Pelphrey utters, "When you leave this locker room, no controversies." They want to avoid off-the-court distractions, they said.

Beverley talked about "being wild" as a freshman and sophomore. But now, he speaks of "not partying all the time," of "showing his teammates the right way to live." In the end, the trio feels confident those actions will lead to more victories.

"This happened so quick," Welsh said. "Yesterday we were underclassmen, and today we're leaders. But it's been a lot of fun. The new guys have been amazing. They understand why we're getting on them. They want to win just as bad as we do.

"It feels like a dream how much we've been able to change over the past three months."

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