Everything around Arkansas coach Mike Anderson tells him it’s time for basketball season from his own biological clock, the weather outside, and finally his Razorbacks’ basketball schedule.
“My mind is racing about things we need to get done,” Anderson said at a recent press conference in relating that he’s waking up earlier and not being able to return to sleep as the season approaches. “When you’ve done it this many years, your body just knows. The leaves are changing. It’s getting cooler. That just means it’s basketball season to me.”
Anderson and his Hogs don’t have long to wait. The Hogs open their season on Nov. 10 at Walton Arena against Samford.
But to tide them over until then, Arkansas has two exhibition games. The first is at 7 p.m. tonight at Bud Walton Arena against Central Oklahoma with the second coming a week later on Nov. 3.
Though only picked to finish sixth in the SEC by the media, Anderson is anticipating having one of his best if not his best season as the Razorbacks’ head coach with six returning seniors and an infusion of freshman talent from what might be his best Arkansas recruiting class so far.
“I think we have a chance to be a special team. I really do, but the process is ongoing,” Anderson said.
The Razorbacks return senior guards Anton Beard (6-0, 185), Daryl Macon (6-3, 185), and Jaylen Barford (6-3, 202), as well as forwards Trey Thompson (6-9, 265) and Dustin Thomas (6-8, 225). Arlando Cook (6-8, 215) is currently under suspension for running afoul of the law, but is expected to play at some point this season.
C.J. Jones (6-5, 175) and Adrio Bailey (6-7, 217) are also in their sophomore seasons.
Freshmen Daniel Gafford (6-11, 234), Darious Hall (6-6, 210), and Gabe Osabuohien (6-8, 219) are expected to contribute as well, particularly Gafford and Hall.
“The sooner we get those guys to mesh with the older guys the better we will be,” Anderson said.
Anderson said there is no update on the medical condition that has kept freshman guard Khalil Garland (6-5, 198) off the court, but he added that he hopes the young man would be able to join the team at some point.
Last Friday the Razorbacks held their Red-White scrimmage, and Anderson said he liked what he saw, but that the exhibition games will be more helpful to the team.
“I saw it as glorified scrimmage, but there is potential there,” Anderson said. “We have some versatile parts and we are a little more athletic.
“We have to zero in now on how we want play and on who is going to play. The exhibition season gives us a chance to see those guys under the lights, cameras and in action with fans and getting to play others than yourselves.
“We get to see the high school guys get their nerves out. And we have guys returning moving into new roles. Take Trey Thompson. He has always been a complementary player, and he’s done well. Each year he’s taken on a bigger and bigger role on our team. This year he has one of the bigger roles on the team, a role of a leader for our basketball team.”
Anderson said that Macon and Barford will take on even bigger roles with the matriculation of Dusty Hannahs and Moses Kingsley from the program last spring.
“They came in as junior college All-Americans who need to transition into major-college basketball,” Anderson said. “I think they did well in doing that. Now, there are going to be targets on them, but it’s a great opportunity for them to continue to show what they can do.”
Anderson said he will likely start a lineup of his veteran players, but all the Hogs should get their chance to play during exhibition season.
“It’s going to be a chance to see who does what with the minutes they are given,” Anderson said. “I look for efficiency. We are a team that wants to hang our hat on defense. Hopefully we can cause more havoc with our defense. That’s what we are working on everyday in practice.”
Anderson said it’s important for him to see how a variety of Hogs mix when on the floor together, but he is also looking for unselfish play.
“We also want to be a team that is among the leaders in assists,” Anderson said. “The teams that I have been associated with that have been really, really good have been ones that would share the basketball.
“To me our guards are really, really good at scoring. Our forwards are going to have to showcase what they are doing. Trey, Dustin Thomas, Gafford, Adrio Bailey. I want us to be a team that makes the extra pass, but plays fast, exciting basketball. Be athletic and play and have some fun.”
Gafford is a freshman that stands to make an instant impact on the team.
“His energy for a guy that size is something special,” Anderson said of the El Dorado product. “He’s going to outrun most big men down the floor. What he does — and we are going to need more than just Daniel doing it — is rebound the basketball. He rebounds above the rim. If he catches anything around the rim, he tries to dunk it. I love that about him, and I love his energy. He’s a sponge. He listens and he wants to get better. But, he has to continue to work hard and figure things out as he goes.”