Jim Harris: Finally, We Can Talk Some Hog Basketball, While Prep Stars Take Over Maumelle

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College and high school basketball has been going on nearly a month, but only the completion of the Arkansas Razorback football coach search allowed us to feel like we could pay more than passing attention.

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Hog Basketball

The basketball Hogs (4-4 overall) went 1-4 through their five-game run against teams from power conferences, meaning Mike Anderson’s club will have to raise its level of play significantly — defense and defensive rebounding, especially — in the 16-game Southeastern Conference schedule to even sniff the post-season. With Kentucky likely being viewed as down nationally, at least compared to the Wildcats’ stature of the past three seasons, the rest SEC will suffer in terms of national attention, particularly when tournament assignments are made in March.

The Razorbacks’ next five games are “Creampuff City” as Anderson tries to iron out some of the half-court offensive problems and gets his players to lock down better on defense and improve the rebounding. If nothing else, these five games should give this year’s deeper bench a chance to contribute significant points and minutes.

  • Dec. 15 — Alcorn State, Fayetteville, 7 p.m.
  • Dec. 20 — Robert Morris, Fayetteville, 7 p.m.
  • Dec. 22 — Alabama A&M, North Little Rock, 7 p.m.
  • Dec. 29 — Northwestern State, Fayetteville, 7 p.m.
  • Jan. 5 — Delaware State, Fayetteville, 7 p.m.

All that leads to the conference opener against Texas A&M in College Station on Jan. 9 on ESPNU.

It’s interesting that Arkansas wasn’t able to sandwich a couple of those cupcakes in between the Syracuse-Oklahoma-Michigan gauntlet (well, to be accurate, Oklahoma was not in Syracuse’s and Michigan’s league in ability, though Arkansas survived the Sooners 81-78 at home to avoid going 0-5 in its meaningful nonconference games).

Also, Arkansas in the past has tried to deliver a decent “name” team to Verizon Arena for the Hogs’ one Central Arkansas stopover, but the best the staff could come up with this year is SWAC sacrificial lamb Alabama A&M.

The visit to Verizon, incidentally, will follow Mike Anderson’s appearance on Friday, Dec. 21 at the Downtown Tip Off Club. Tickets for the Verizon game are on sale at the arena for $25 apiece. Tickets for the Tip Off Club are $15 for members and $20, and the luncheon is held at the Wyndham Riverfront.

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High School Basketball

In the meantime, some of the state’s top high school players will be showing off their skills Saturday, Dec. 15, at Maumelle High School in the fourth Arkansas Hoops Challenge, sponsored by the Arkansas Amateur Basketball Foundation.

Little Rock Hall’s 6-foot-10 Bobby Portis, a recent signee for the Razorbacks, will be on hand as the Warriors play Bentonville at 4:20 p.m.

The next Natural State prep superstar, who is already drawing attention from the powerhouse schools, is 6-foot-3 North Little Rock sophomore Kevaughn Allen, who is scoring at a near 30-points-per-game clip for the Charging Wildcats.

Ron Crawford, the state’s top source on prep basketball talent and the organizer of AAU basketball in the state, says that Allen may be the best Arkansas has produced in years, including current Kentucky Wildcat Archie Goodwin, who is likely to bolt after his one year in Lexington for the NBA. It should be noted that Allen doesn’t play for Crawford’s Wings spring and summer organization, but that doesn’t stop Crawford from raving about the player’s amazing skills.

Crawford did have Charging Wildcats guard Dayshawn Watkins on the national championship Wings 17-and-under team this past summer, and Watkins’ game has soared over the past six months. Watkins signed in November to play at Alabama-Birmingham.

A third Wildcat, 6-5 forward Thomas Alexander, figures to sign with a D-I school in the spring.

North Little Rock will take on last year’s Class 4A state titlist, Clarksville at 8:20 p.m. in the wrap-up game to the full-day of basketball, which tips off at 12:20 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for students. Children under 5 will be admitted at no charge. Concession proceeds will support the Maumelle High booster club.

Other notable players to watch:

  • Malik Monk, a ninth-grader and the brother of former Razorback football standout Marcus Monk. Monk and East Poinsett County play Maumelle at 3 p.m. Also on EPC’s starting five is Arkansas State signee Jammar “Mookie” Sturdivant.
  • Parkview’s trio of talented guards — Mississippi State signee I.J. Ready, Missouri junior commit Anton Beard and sophomore Jaylen Franklin — who will be matched up against Fayetteville’s big and balanced lineup, led by 6-10 Tyler McCullough, a recent Missouri State signee, and 6-8 Caleb Waitsman, who is headed to Colorado School of Mines. Bulldogs guard Manuale Watkins is unsigned but being recruited by D-I programs.
  • Bentonville will try to match up with Portis and Hall’s talent with 6-8 power forward Nick Smith, who has signed with Belmont. And look out for freshman point guard Tyrik Dixon of the Tigers.
  • Clarksville, which has moved up to 5A for the newest classification cycle (and welcomed the challenge of playing North Little Rock, Crawford said), returns its entire team, including the Lee family — 6-3 senior Dedrick Lee, who is headed to Oral Roberts, and his 6-4 senior cousin Devan Simms, along with the cat-quick 5-foot-3 twins Fredrick Lee and Kenderick Lee at guards.
  • Jacksonville has college talent in 6-2 guard Justin McCleary, who is unsigned, and 6-8 forward Keith Charleston. They’ll need them against Jonesboro’s dynamic guard trio of highly touted 5-10 junior Kahron Ross, sophomore Marquise Pointer and senior Tony White. Jonesboro upset nationally ranked Jackson (Miss.) Callaway High 44-43 last week.
  • Forrest City will be led by 6-foot-8 center Trey Thompson, who has been among the top 100 players in his class the past three seasons. Forrest City tangles with Fort Smith Northside at 1:40 p.m.
  • Shiloh Christian’s 6-6 guard Darian Harris, who has signed with Creighton, will lead the Saints against Pulaski Academy in the 12:20 p.m. opener.

There will not be another assemblage of talent this outstanding on one day at one location this season.

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