Welsh Pushed Into Leadership Role

FAYETTEVILLE — Memories of summer days in Newport News, Va., bring a smile to Stefan Welsh's face. Pickup games with childhood friends, trips to the beach and family dinners have highlighted the Arkansas guard's summers before this past one.

He experienced none of that this past June, July and August, though. Welsh never traveled back home, not even once to see his beloved mother, Yolanda. Instead, the 6-foot-3, 185-pound junior stayed in Fayetteville, attending class, working out with new teammates, basically learning how to lead again.

"It was hard," Welsh said. "I'm really close knit with my family, especially with my mom, and I love hanging out with my childhood friends. But they understand. They'd rather me be here. They know the mission I'm on."

That mission suddenly included an increased leadership role when Patrick Beverley left the team in August. And as the Razorbacks prepare for tonight's game with California-Davis, Welsh still finds himself searching for ways to better serve them as a leader.

The move from backup guard to co-leader — with fellow junior Michael Washington — came fast and without warning. But coaches and players alike have appreciated Welsh's continued efforts in helping a team with seven newcomers mature.

"He's really stepped up," freshman guard Rotnei Clarke said. "He's been so consistent. The last few weeks he has had the same kind of intensity and encouragement every single day at practice."

Welsh's acceptance of leadership responsibilities shouldn't come as a surprise. In high school, he led Woodside High to two state championships and landed on the watch lists of many major conference schools because of stellar AAU play.

Washington distinctly remembers the way Welsh commanded respect from teammates on the AAU circuit. So does Dave Telep, Scout.com's national college basketball recruiting analyst, though he noticed Welsh's leadership from a different perspective.

"The good thing for Stefan was he was always popular with his peers, always popular with his teammates," Telep said. "Guys were always drawn to him. He might not have been the main leader on the floor. But he was always a great team guy, a great chemistry guy, a unifier."

"He wasn't up in anyone's face all that often. He was the guy everyone wanted to hang with it seemed."

Welsh fit that description his first two seasons at Arkansas. He didn't get too animated ever, did everything right off the court and respectfully learned from mentors such as Sonny Weems and Gary Ervin.

But now, especially with Beverley gone, Welsh has had to lead in previously unfamiliar ways.

"I can get fiery," Welsh urged.

Then again, he insisted that being a strong leader isn't all about decibel levels. The words Welsh uses are "even keel." Every day needs to be the same, he says. Never too high, never too low, always intense.

He has experienced a few issues with the process of leading.

"We spend a lot of time trying to tell Stef, when you're a leader, there is a way to tell them what's right and what's wrong," Arkansas assistant coach Rob Evans said. "Sometimes you have to be a little more diplomatic. That's taken some time to learn."

Welsh's willingness to receive constructive criticism from Evans and Arkansas coach John Pelphrey has only benefitted the transition, Evans said.

So much so that Welsh doesn't mind being under a microscope. He embraces that he must try and be perfect every day, on and off the court, for the sake of the teammates who watch him for guidance.

"I actually enjoy that, especially being at a prestigious university like Arkansas when you're expected to come in every day and not have any slip-ups," Welsh said. "It's an honor. Guys like Todd Day and Corliss Williamson came in and did the same thing every day when they were here. I don't take it lightly."



STEFAN WELSH

Class: Junior

Position: Guard

Height: 6-foot-3

Weight: 185 pounds

Hometown: Newport News, Va.

High School: Woodside High

Prep School: Hargrave Military Academy

Notables: Had nine points and two assists in Arkansas' 91-87 season-opening overtime win over Southeastern Louisiana last Friday night. ... Has played in all 71 of Arkansas' games since he arrived in 2006, starting 23 of them. ... Averaged 5.3 points in 19.3 minutes per game last season. ... Named a Nike All-American in 2004 and 2005 for his play at Woodside High. Also named first-team all district as a senior wide receiver and kick returner.





Stefan Welsh


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