Anton Beard earned in-state admirers quickly. As a sophomore at Little Rock (Ark.) Parkview, he helped lead his squad to the state championship. He scored 21 points in the final with Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson on hand watching intently.
During the 2012 spring Beard took the next step and performed impressively at the Best Buy Chicago Classic. In early June, he announced for Missouri over LSU and others, ending his recruitment early. He remained a Tiger commit while enjoying a big junior season, averaging more than 20 points per game.
Rumors surfaced that he may be wavering, but as recently as this past January he insisted that his pledge was rock solid. By mid-February, however, he had backed off Mizzou and begun to look around. He first changed his high school destination (from Parkview to North Little Rock) for 2013-14 and then, in April, committed to Arkansas over LSU, Tennessee and UMass.
That set him up for the 2013 travel circuit. Beard competed for Team Penny and also received an invitation to the LeBron James Skills Academy, enabling him to measure his progress nationally versus some of the country's best players.
Simply put, Beard is a speed guy. He's definitely quick, too, but he's most impressive when he gets out in the open floor with the ball in his hands. At LeBron, Beard exploded past even his elite peers in the open court. From that standpoint, then, it's difficult to imagine a better fit for Mike Anderson's system.
His speed will reap dividends on defense as well. Although somewhat small at only 6-0, Beard moves his feet quickly and should develop into a great contain man when Arkansas' pressure gets broken. He should become a factor as a steals-man as well.
The southpaw finishes well with both hands at the rim, compensating to some extent for lacking size. He's so ambidextrous that you might watch him for a full half before realizing he's a lefty. That makes him an effective handler, too, and thus he's able to maximize the value of his impressive speed.
As a shooter, Beard knocks in open jump shots to 21 feet. He does a good job of anticipating where big men will look to pass back out of the post, and thus he's in position to shoot upon receiving a kick-out.
Many will point to his height first. As you'd expect, taller guards can pass over the top of him and his dribble can be harassed by elite, rangy defenders. He also isn't completely refined yet as a playmaker, as he's far more capable in transition than he is in the halfcourt.
We'd also like to see him utilize the mid-range areas more frequently to score. He sometimes settles for threes when he might otherwise develop a one- and two-dribble pullup game. Adding that dimension would make him far more complete as a scorer.
Beard may not step in and become an immediate impact player, but he's a very good catch for the Razorbacks. He'll need time to harness his playmaking potential and to become more rounded as a scorer, but over time he should develop into a backcourt stalwart.
The SEC has improved on an overall basis with Kentucky (and others to a lesser extent) recruiting lights-out, and getting an in-state speedster like Beard was a significant win for the coaching staff.