Pelphrey, Players Eager For Fortson's Debut

FAYETTEVILLE — Coaches and players have uttered all kinds of descriptive words to describe freshman point guard Courtney Fortson, who makes his Razorbacks debut tonight in Arkansas' exhibition finale against Dillard.

Coach John Pelphrey calls him "a winner." Assistant coach Rob Evans refers to him as "hard-nosed, tough and mean" on the court. Assistant coach Tom Ostrom likens the 5-foot-11, 180-pounder to a "tenacious pitbull."

And junior guard Stefan Welsh says Fortson's a "natural-born leader," a key component he said the Razorbacks couldn't wait to add to their lineup.

"He does everything that you ask from a point guard," Welsh said. "He shows leadership, creates easy buckets for everyone and puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the basketball."

Arkansas fans are only now getting their first chance to see Fortson, one of the nation's top prep school point guards last season, because he was suspended by Pelphrey. Fortson missed the Red-White Game and Monday's exhibition win over Campbellsville.

Pelphrey declined to go into specifics about Fortson's suspension. But Welsh said he was impressed with the freshman's reaction to it, as well as Fortson's supportive demeanor on the bench Monday night.

"He understands that for what he did, whatever he did, there was punishment required," Welsh said. "He took it the right way. He could've sulked, but he handled it the right way. That's a sign of him maturing."

Welsh said Fortson will provide a "new dimension" for the Razorbacks.

"He brings a level of toughness on the defensive end as far as playing with intensity, and he lives in the lane," Welsh said. "He creates a lot of easy shots for everybody."

Pelphrey, who said Fortson will start tonight, raved about the effect Fortson has had on his teammates in practice. Pelphrey said he hoped Fortson's presence especially allows Welsh and freshman guard Rotnei Clarke to thrive off the ball.

Welsh and Clarke each had to spend time at point guard Monday night with Fortson out. But Pelphrey obviously would prefer to let his explosive freshman set up his backcourt mates, who could all end up in the lineup together at times this season.

"The team will change (when Fortson plays)," Pelphrey said. "It will get everybody in the positions they are most comfortable with.

"What I'm interested to see is if Courtney can bring his defense into the game. ... He has the ability to be a great player because he can make people around him better."



TODAY'S TICKET

DILLARD (LA.) AT ARKANSAS

WHEN: 7:05 p.m.

WHERE: Bud Walton Arena

COACHES: Dillard, Dale Brown; Arkansas, John Pelphrey

PROBABLE ARKANSAS STARTERS: Courtney Fortson, G; Stefan Welsh, G; Marcus Britt or Rotnei Clarke, G; Michael Washington, F; Michael Sanchez, F



COURTNEY FORTSON

Position: Point Guard

Height: 5-foot-11

Weight: 180 pounds

Hometown: Montgomery, Ala.

High School: Jefferson Davis High

Prep School: The Patterson School (Lenoir, N.C.)

Notables: Averaged 25 points, seven assists and six steals last season for The Patterson School, which finished with a 34-2 record and advanced to the quarterfinals of the National Prep Tournament. ... Named Mr. Basketball in the state of Alabama after his senior season at Jefferson Davis. ... Led his Jefferson Davis team to the Class 6A state title his junior season.

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