Jim Harris: Mike Anderson Gets Point Across to a Growing Team

Visit Jim's Author Archive
One of the first comments Mike Anderson heard from a fan at the Wyndham Riverfront hotel in North Little Rock on Friday concerned the moment Thursday night when Razorback basketball coach appeared to give his star sophomore guard, B.J. Young, an earful before a stare down late in the Hogs’ 79-74 televised win over Robert Morris in Fayetteville.

Mike Anderson“Me?” he said, incredulously, then later laughed about it before a full house of fans at the Wyndham for his annual Downtown Tip Off Club stopover.

He confessed that Nolan Richardson, his Razorback coaching mentor for 17 years, called him earlier that day saying, “I don’t know what that was, but it sure looked like a Nolan Richardson stare.”

Anderson has never seemed as vociferous and demonstrative on the sideline as his boot-wearing coach and teacher — and that’s sometimes to a fault when it appears the officials are whistle-happy toward the Hogs’ aggressiveness. But there are moments like the one Thursday where Anderson can grab his players’ full attention.

Arkansas was clinging to a five-point lead with less than 40 seconds to play, and about 20 seconds still on the shot clock, when Young decided to fire a 3-pointer from the right wing. It wasn’t just that the shot missed badly, the problem was that Young shot it at all.

Anderson told the Tip Off Club audience he tries to do all of his yelling in practice so that in games he can sit calmly like a game manager.

“But if you’re going to shoot a 3-pointer when we have a 5-point lead and that much time on the shot clock, you deserve a stare,” he said.

Maybe Young got the message. The 6-2 guard from St. Louis, who even Anderson will say “hasn’t met a shot he didn’t like,” didn’t appear too chagrined a few moments later when the Hogs had wrapped up the win. Anderson would rather his players take these little lessons, move on and improve without sulking. There’s little time for that anyway with an 18-game Southeastern Conference schedule coming, beginning Jan. 9 at Texas A&M.

In the meantime, Arkansas has a non-conference game at North Little Rock’s Verizon Arena on Saturday night against Alabama A&M of the Southwestern Athletic Conference (7 p.m. tip, all seats $25). Before anyone writes that off as an easy win over an outmatched foe, consider that (1) Alabama A&M beat usually strong Missouri State and (2) the Razorbacks have lost eight of their last 11 games at Verizon Arena, including three in a row, even against foes the Hogs expected to whip.

Robert Morris is a regular NCAA Tournament participant out of the Northeast Conference and the Colonials posed the kind of threat that has bothered Arkansas in recent years: potent 3-point shooting to go with scrapping by smaller inside players on the boards. Arkansas exhibited some newfound toughness derived from a difficult nonconference schedule to win the game with its inside play while its outside accuracy and free throw shooting were below average.

In particular, as Anderson noted Friday, sophomore forward Hunter Mickelson asserted himself and Arkansas took control with a 20-5 run early in the second half.

“He’s really coming on,” the coach said. “He came in and put his stamp on the second half. He was cutting to the basket, stepping back and hitting that jumper, rebounding the basketball.” Mickelson scored a career-high 16 points Thursday.

Arkansas dropped four of five games against the strongest portion of its schedule — a home loss to Syracuse, two defeats in Las Vegas to Arizona State and Wisconsin and a road loss at Michigan — while seeing its defense and lack of rebounding, and basically its manhood, exposed.

Since the 4-4 start, however, Anderson has seen the overall defense pick up, especially in the half-court, and more players are proving themselves contributors off the bench. The shooting, while still sporadic, “will come,” Anderson said. “That’s all rhythm.”

Who would have thought back when the season began in mid-November that walk-on Kikko Haydar and transfer Fred Gulley, who only became eligible last weekend, would be on the court together during a stretch when the Hogs were trying to fend off Robert Morris? But Haydar, who “is the smartest guy on entire campus,” Anderson said, has contributed outside shooting and hustle in the backcourt and Gulley is looking like a much needed-point man.

“You never know. I’m an instinctive coach and when kids are playing well … and those guys were playing well. They were defending well. I thought they were getting to the loose balls,” Anderson said. “They were fixing things on defense, fixing things on offense.

“They just have a good basketball IQ and I think that helps a guy like Hunter, helps a guy like Marshawn Powell and even B.J., it helps him.”

With Coty Clarke subbing for Powell, and freshman Jacorey Williams giving Mickelson a rest, the Hogs’ inside game has depth it didn’t have last year. Powell was lost for the season in November, tearing up his knee in a shoot-around on the Verizon court last November before a loss to Houston, and Michael Sanchez and Marvell Waithe battled injuries.

Mickelson, a 185-pound stringbean fresh out of Jonesboro Westside High, was throw into the fire against the likes of Kentucky’s all-everything big man Anthony Davis and Vanderbilt’s 7-foot All-SEC senior, Festus Ezeli.

“And remember, he dunked on Ezeli,” Anderson said, remembering the positive moments.

In fact, Anderson was all positive and upbeat about this team Friday.

“They’re learning it on the floor,” he said. “They’re going to make mistakes, but as long as you’re learning, that’s all right.”

Arkansas had no seniors other than Sanchez and Waithe last year, and none this year. The best players outside of Powell are sophomores and the newcomer Clarke. Maybe Hog fans tire of hearing how “young” Arkansas always is, but it’s fair to deem the Razorbacks as lacking experience, at least until March.

By then, after 30 regular season games, they should have a lot figured out.

“I just feel we’re going to be in the hunt for something,” Anderson said of the SEC race. “I don’t know what it is, but we will be. We’ll be a team to contend and hopefully continue to get better and use the lessons we’ve learned in the nonconference schedule.”

Email Jim. Also follow Jim on Twitter.


Tags: , , , , , , ,