Jim Harris: Another National Championship – Mike Anderson Details How


Arkansas basketball coach Mike Anderson was on the Razorback major sports coaches rotation to appear at the Greers Ferry Lake Area Razorback Club on Thursday night in Heber Springs, and in terms of getting the crowd fired up, he didn’t disappoint.

Reportedly, last night’s turnout was the largest attended of any of these Razorback Club events in state, with more than 500 fans filling the Heber Springs Community Center and enjoying a live auction of football game tickets and other memorabilia, a silent auction, some terrific barbecue, and the presence of former Hogs Scotty Thurman and Pat Bradley with Anderson to sign autographs. The plane carrying Anderson and Thurman was delayed leaving Fayetteville because of the line of thunderstorms moving through the state Thursday. At least the UA now owns a jet that can fly over the problems once they’re airborne.

We caught up first with Anderson before he and the entourage were welcomed into the spacious facility with a Hog Call, asking him about Wednesday’s announcement that the Razorbacks would play at Iowa State on Dec. 4 as part of the SEC/Big 12 matchup. He said a trip into Ames, Iowa, should have the Razorbacks prepared for going on the road when SEC play begins. No one should be accusing the Hogs of going weak on their nonconference schedule next season, with road games at SMU and Clemson also on tap, but Anderson made clear he didn’t think Arkansas’ strength of schedule was as weak as some rankings had it. He pointed out his squad’s 5-1 record against teams that made either the NCAA or NIT final fours last season. He would repeat that fact for the Razorback Club members.

If he’d just steer clear from playing too many of those programs who will never crack the top 250 of college basketball programs in the RPI, Arkansas would never have a problem with the old SOS. Yes, and he agreed, the SEC was undervalued by the guys who calculate strength of schedule, as the NCAA Tournament results proved with three SEC teams reaching the Sweet Sixteen. A couple of creampuffs are understandable as a coach is crafting his team and building chemistry. And, yes, it’s not easy finding teams who will come to Bud Walton Arena without a return game. Nevertheless three tough road games in 12 nonconference games will help next year’s team when the NCAA Tournmament selection committee is fussing over RPIs and which teams deserve to make the 68-team field.

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These events like in Heber Springs tend to be pep rallies, everyone decked out in something Razorback red and Anderson providing the fodder for cheers. Before he was done and before taking questions from the fans, Anderson was promising the crowd he would win a national championship.

Of course, getting to the NCAA Tournament would be a first big step for Anderson’s Arkansas program. He accomplished that at Alabama-Birmingham and went as far as the Elite Eight during his time at Missouri, before being hired away three years ago to reconstruct the glory days in Bud Walton Arena.

Anderson recounted some of the more recent highlights after his third team won 21 games and made the post-season NIT, where the Hogs split a pair of early round games.

“A lot of great things are starting to take place,” he said. “We have six guys that are graduating. That demands great applause, six guys graduating. Remember, it was not so long ago, six or seven years ago, it was like 0 for 6 had graduated and when I came in there were APR issues.

“My point is, when you are talking about winning, you’ve got to win off the floor before you win on the floor. Say it again: You’ve got to win OFF the floor before you win ON the floor.”

Mike Anderson talks national championshipIn comparing the most recently completed season to his second year, Anderson said, “Last year [2012-13] we were a couple of players away. We added some players — Bobby Portis, Moses Kingsley, Manuel Watkins — then we got into this season and guess what people? We were plays away, plays away from having a special, special year.”

He noted the early season near-miss at home against Florida, where the Hogs had a chance to salt the game away at the foul line in the final 17 seconds or make a defensive stop to avoid overtime, but instead let the Gators escape Bud Walton with a win and continue on to an unbeaten SEC season. A week later, the Hogs allowed Georgia to force overtime in Athens and rip away a win that looked like Arkansas’ for the taking.

“That’s why I have no hair, that’s how close we were; we were just that close,” he assured the crowd. “I’m excited because we have a core group coming back. We lost six seniors, but we have a great core coming back.”

Anderson expects senior forward Alandise Harris to be positioned for an “impact year” next season. Senior guard Ky Madden will benefit most from the Hogs’ recruiting two point guards in this incoming newcomer class: junior college transfer Jabril Durham and North Little Rock star Anton Beard. “Now that we have guards coming in, we can get [Madden] off the ball and have two point guards out there,” Anderson said.

“Good teams, if you watch the teams that continued to move on in the tournament, they have super, outstanding guards. You look at these guys here, we had outstanding guards. Pat Bradley and Kareem Reid. Scotty Thurman, Corey Beck, Clint McDaniel.

“Of course, you have a big guy named Corliss Williamson that we could throw it into, they had to pay attention to him.

“But we feel like we’re putting all the right pieces in.”

A key these days is what some of the returning players will accomplish during off-season work. Can “Mr. Walk on Air” Michael Qualls continue to improve his game like he did between last off-season? “Can he make that next leap?”

Another junior who would have to come back stronger and more consistent is shooting guard Anthlon Bell. “He’s a guy we really think can shoot the basketball. He started off with a bang, finished with a bang. I don’t know what the hell he was doing in between. But, that’s the part we’re going to work on, we’ll get better at it.

“Now he’s going to be  s junior. Maturity sets in.”

Consistency is another focus. “I thought our inconsistency was the biggest difference in our team,” the coach said. They have to bring in night in and night out.

Another focus as this team moves toward next season: Who will be that one player who can get the ball in the hole when the team has to score?

Anderson said he purposely made sure McDonald’s All-America forward Bobby Portis out of Little Rock didn’t feel like he had to be a savior in his freshman season, but to develop at his own pace — which turned out to be second team All-SEC.

“This guy lives in the gym. He makes sure he shoots 500 shots a day. He gets to 200 free throws each and every day. He doesn’t want to just be good. He wants to be great.

Look for him to take another big time step for our basketball team,” said Anderson, who added that Portis will have to continue to develop the physical aspect of his game with strength, core work and exercises to gain more explosiveness. Anderson also expects a bigger year from his second twin tower, Moses Kingsley, and hopes junior Jacorey Williams and junior transfer Keaton Miles are ready to provide depth to the inside game.

The incoming juco guard, Durham, “is a young man who will impact our basketball team in a positive way.” Meanwhile, Beard “won three state championships. We’re getting guys who are used to winning. He has that toughness that you have to have when you go into places like at Kentucky, at Vanderbilt.”

Anderson illustrated the program’s growth with the results on the road, comparing this season to the previous one. “Last year, we were what I called home boys. We played our butts off at home but we didn’t do anything on the road. But guess what? This year we took the show on the road. And we’re going to take it even more so on the road next year.”

Cue the big cheers.

Anderson had an interesting anecdote that came from the LSU game at Bud Walton, when Arkansas honored all its past Final Four teams and brought in many players from those teams.

“It was a close game,” he said, “we go to the locker room, I’m giving my spiel, ‘We gotta do this, gotta do that, step it up. The former players are coming in from the floor and walking past our dressing room. I could hear Big O [Oliver Miller], Corey Beck, Todd Day, like they’re in the locker room with us. I could hear them yelling, ‘You guys don’t know what you’re doing here, you’d better turn this stuff up.’ They didn’t say stuff, they said turn this “s” up. I said, ‘Well, there goes my speech.’”

And Arkansas went out and ran LSU off the court, the same Tiger squad that had beaten the Hogs by 18 points just days earlier.

Fans might remember, the way they remember Thurman draining his pivotal 3-pointer vs. Duke in 1994, which is replayed over and over (and was again at this club meeting), that during Arkansas’ blitz of LSU in the second half, Ky Madden whipped a pass behind his back to the rim and the freshman Portis zoomed in to tipped it home. Like Qualls’ slam-dunk rebound to beat Kentucky, one of his many ESPN Top 10 highlights, it was another unbelievable play that showed off these Hogs’ skills.

“You talk 20 years ago, but we’re going to have our own memories. We’re just getting started. We’re going to have some more memories, so strap it on … We went to the little dance this year, but we’re not going to the little dance next season. We’re going to the Big Dance. And I’m not just talking about getting there to the Dance, but dancing.”

It was enough to get this crowd all revved up and ready to load into buses and head to Ames, Iowa, for the Hogs first big game next season.


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