Pelphrey, Long Already Working

FAYETTEVILLE — An avid basketball fan his entire life, Arkansas coach John Pelphrey hasn't found much time lately to watch the NCAA Tournament.

He has spent many hours on the road recruiting. He has spoken with a majority of his returning players, who just returned from spring break, and he has enjoyed some precious family time.

But perhaps more than anything else, he has pondered how his Razorbacks must change before they begin practice in October.

"For me, right now, the focus is I want to see these young men take ownership of their basketball team," Pelphrey said. "I want to see them take responsibility for each other. I get a chance to hear all the time what we want to do, where we want to go, all these types of things. Now (they) need to show me."

Pelphrey talked far more about Arkansas' future than its 14-16 season during Monday's postseason news conference, addressing subjects such as recruiting, learning lessons and adding depth.

Unfortunately for Pelphrey, he couldn't tell reporters that junior forward Michael Washington had made a decision concerning his future. So Pelphrey, who spoke briefly Monday with Washington, apparently has more recruiting to do than he initially imagined.

"I'm not sure he knows exactly what he wants to do," Pelphrey said. "This is a decision for Mike and his family. We'll support him in making the best decision possible. I think he would like to come back for his senior year, but I think he does want to see what interest is out there."

Pelphrey said he'd recommend Washington return to the Hogs if he wasn't projected to be a first-round NBA draft pick. Washington's fate will be one of many topics covered by Pelphrey and Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long when the two meet in the coming weeks.

Like Pelphrey, Long was frustrated by this season's struggles and stated he wanted to see improvement.

Long insisted Monday, however, that fans needed to keep the state of the program in mind when critiquing the Razorbacks, as well as Pelphrey. Long said that losing six seniors, Patrick Beverley and eventually Montrell McDonald and Marcus Monk would hinder any team.

"Really, this year was the starting over year," Long said. "Having a full roster (next season) will help in so many ways. Having that longer bench will be so beneficial. And I hope the majority of our fans see that we're a young team and that we do have some talent."

The Razorbacks also experienced some off-the-court issues, but Long said he was pleased with how Pelphrey handled each situation. He said he feels comfortable moving forward with a coach such as Pelphrey, who won't hesitate to suspend players.

Pelphrey has issued 15 suspensions in his two seasons at Arkansas.

"I'd be more concerned if we weren't disciplining student-athletes," Long said. "I'm very pleased with his discipline. We all know there are some programs that look the other way, so I applaud John and am in full support of him for this."

Long also said he fully supported giving Pelphrey ample time to rebuild Arkansas basketball.

In briefly analyzing the past, Pelphrey compared this past season to his third at South Alabama, a 10-18 campaign that ranks as his worst as a head coach. The next season, South Alabama went 24-7 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament.

By adding three recruits — and potentially one or two more in the spring — to a team that won't graduate anyone, Pelphrey is hoping for a similar turnaround. Merely being able to compile a roster full with scholarship players will help immensely, he said.

"I think it will have a tremendous effect," Pelphrey said. "Depth and competition is good. It's going to make Courtney Fortson better. It's going to make Michael Washington better. It's going to make our team better. The harder practice becomes, the easier games will be, because we'll have depth.

"There's going to become a day when we have eight, nine, 10 guys playing (in games), and we're going to be able to constantly press and drive people crazy."

Maybe then, Pelphrey won't be in a spot where he's ignoring an NCAA Tournament his team didn't make.

"I hope this is very motivating for our players," Pelphrey said. "It should be. This is not where we want to be this time of year."

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