Razorbacks Want to Bury Negativity

FAYETTEVILLE — Point guard Courtney Fortson believes the negative headlines that have surrounded the Arkansas basketball program will disappear if the Razorbacks can accomplish one thing this winter.

"Win. That's it," Fortson said Thursday, during a press conference previewing Arkansas' preseason practice.

Arkansas will do its best to put a tumultous offseason in the past starting tonight, when the Razorbacks hold their first official workout in Bud Walton Arena.

It has been a long time coming for a program dominated by bad news since finishing 14-16 last year, which included 2-14 in Southeastern Conference play.

Since then, Arkansas' poor academic progress rating, suspensions and departures have been glaring issues.

The most serious situation came last month, when three players — Marcus Britt, Glenn Bryant and Nick Mason — were investigated for an alleged rape at a fraternity house party. No charges were filed in the case, but Arkansas has levied suspensions to players involved.

That includes Fortson, who was never mentioned in the police investigation but was disciplined for posting an insensitive message about the incident on Twitter.

So it's no surprise Arkansas coach John Pelphrey said the Razorbacks are eager to bury all of the negativity.

"I think we're ready to move forward," Pelphrey said. "We're certainly going to take all of our resources and our experiences and things that happened to us on all levels at all points in our life, not just last season, and try to be the best we can this year."

Arkansas will try to accomplish that by combining five returning scholarship players with six newcomers.

The task sounds challenging, but Pelphrey said he's much more comfortable than last fall. Only three players with experience returned to a team that reached the Round of 32 in the 2008 NCAA Tournament.

Players are optimistic the returning core will improve and newcomes will add better depth. They also believe all the turmoil has helped improve team chemistry.

"I think this shaky offseason has helped us come a little closer and work harder in the offseason," Fortson said. "So when we are on the court, it will show."

Several players will be suspended for as many as three games when the season begins, but Pelphrey declined to reveal exact punishments Thursday. He said the topic would be discussed in more detail closer to the opener.

But Pelphrey was direct was asked if last month's incident could serve as a rallying point for his team.

"No," he said. "We're very respectful of that situation."

Instead, Pelphrey said he wants players to concentrate on adhering to his high standards for the program. He's hoping the offseason has helped the message sink in.

"We try to mold them into men," Pelphrey said. "It's a process. That's why you have coaches, that's why I have bosses. That's why I have people trying to help me be the best I can be. I hope they understand that. If they don't, we'll keep pounding them and doing all we do."

Sophomore guard Rotnei Clarke said it's now time for the Razorbacks to focus on "the task at hand."

He said bonding together and winning games is key to putting Arkansas basketball in a better light.

"Putting those things behind us and focusing on this season is what we want to do now," Clarke said. "Winning and having positive things on the court and off the court during the season is going to help us out."

At A Glance

2009-10 Arkansas Men's Basketball Schedule

Date Opponent Time TV

Nov. 2 Dillard (exhibition) 7 p.m.

Nov. 5 Lemoyne-Owen (exhibition) 7 p.m.

Nov. 13 Alcorn St. 7 p.m.

Nov. 17 $Louisville 6:30 p.m. ESPN2

Nov. 20 Appalachian St. 7 p.m.

Nov. 24 Morgan St. 7 p.m.

Nov. 27 East Tennessee St. 7 p.m. RSN

Nov. 29 South Alabama 2 p.m.

Dec. 2 at Oklahoma 7 p.m. RSN

Dec. 5 Mississippi Valley St. 2 p.m.

Dec. 7 Delaware St. 7 p.m.

Dec. 16 Alabama St. 7 p.m. RSN

Dec. 19 Stephen F. Austin 3 p.m. RSN

Dec. 22 Missouri St. 7 p.m. RSN

Dec. 30 #Baylor 8 p.m. ESPN2

Jan. 2 Alabama-Birmingham 7 p.m. RSN

Jan. 5 Texas 6 p.m. ESPN or ESPN2

Jan. 14 at Mississippi St.* 6 p.m. ESPNU

Jan. 16 Alabama* 12:30 p.m. SEC

Jan. 21 Florida* 8 p.m. ESPN or ESPN2

Jan. 23 at Kentucky* 3 p.m. SEC

Jan. 28 Mississippi St.* 8 p.m. ESPN or ESPN2

Jan. 30 at Ole Miss* 3 p.m. SEC

Feb. 3 at Georgia* 6 p.m. CSS

Feb. 6 Auburn* 12:30 p.m. SEC

Feb. 10 LSU* 7 p.m. SEC

Feb. 13 at Alabama* 3 p.m. SEC

Feb. 17 South Carolina* 8 p.m. CSS

Feb. 20 at Auburn* 6 p.m. FSN

Feb. 24 at LSU* 7 p.m. SEC

Feb. 27 Vanderbilt* 12:30 p.m. SEC

March 3 at Tennessee* 6 p.m. CSS

March 6 Ole Miss* 3 p.m. SEC

Southeastern Conference Tournament

March 11-14 at Nashville, Tenn. SEC and ESPN

$ At Scottrade Center, St. Louis, Mo.

# At North Little Rock

* Southeastern Conference game

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