By Dudley E. Dawson
Over the past few years, Arkansas basketball fans have longed for a return to something that remotely resembles its famed "40 Minutes of Hell."
Re-enter Mike Anderson, former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson's right-hand man for 17 years back in the Razorback glory days and someone who notched his own success as a head coach at UAB and Missouri.
"These fans are so passionate about the Razorbacks and so excited about what we are going to do with bringing excitement and great success back to the basketball program," Anderson said. "They know we now have pride in being Razorbacks, know we know how to get the program to the top and will work hard to make sure it happens again."
Anderson played for Richardson at Tulsa and was an assistant for him for almost two decades – including on the 1994 national championship and 1995 runnerup squads.
He clearly has alums happy about his return as evidenced by this quote from former Razorback track star and Olympian Mike Conley.
"This place will be packed now," Conley said. " We haven't won much in awhile and this is going to give the fans a big boost. This is the spark. There will be an adjustment period for the players to learn Mike's system, but he'll get it done."
Some 5,000 fans turned out early on a Saturday morning in March to welcome Anderson back – which was larger than some game crowds last season.
ESPN college basketball analyst and former Razorback player Jimmy Dykes thinks Anderson is the right man at the right place at the right time.
"Right now he is in his coaching prime, he is at the place he calls home and has always wanted to lead and he has never been out-worked," Dykes said. "It is really the perfect storm. The fans and former players are excited about the hire, the passion and the energy are going to come back to Bud Walton Arena. It is really the right time and the right fit."
The new coach made it clear to his new players right off the bat what he expects from them.
"The first thing you had to do was come in and change the culture and that's having guys do the right things on and off the court," Anderson said. "Then you have to make sure they understand how we are going to play and that's hard.
"That's just a given," Anderson added. "You've got to play hard. There is no other way."
But he'll have just 10 scholarship players to work with this season as leading scorer Rotnei Clarke transferred to Gonzaga , junior Glenn Bryant to Eastern Michigan and senior Jeff Peterson – who had graduated – to Florida State to play his final season.
"We have to work with what we've got until we get what we want," Anderson said.
Anderson points to his returning veterans from last season's 18-13 squad - 7-9 in SEC games - as a key to this season's success.
The Razorbacks return 6-8 junior forward Marshawn Powell, 6-2 junior guard Julysess Nobles, 6-8 senior forward Michael Sanchez, 6-7 senior forward Marvell Waithe, 6-2 sophomore guard Mardracus Wade and 6-3 sophomore guard Rickey Scott.
"I think the key is going to be the core guys coming back," Anderson said. "MarJu(lyses) Noble, Marshawn Powell, Michael Sanchez and Marvell Waithe - a young man who hasn't played as much, but I see a lot of positive things that are happening everyday with them – Mardracus Wade and Rickey Scott."
Powell had a great freshman season averaging 15 points per game. He was injured before his sophomore campaign and struggled throughout the season while averaging just 10 points - which still makes him the leading returning scorer.
He was hurt again this spring, but has rehabbed and is good to go according to Anderson.
"He's been working every day," Anderson said. "He hasn't asked out of participation in anything that we have done. With that being said, he is getting ready to enter into his junior year…He's giving me everything he's got. He's working hard."
He is understandably excited about his four talented incoming freshmen in 6-3 guard B.J. Young, 6-5 guard Rashad "Ky" Madden, 6-8, 250-pound power forward Devonta Abron and 6-11, 246-pound forward Hunter Mickelson.
"All of those kids are so talented and we think they are all going to be great players in our system," Anderson said. "I think they all will have major impacts for us right away."