FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Mike Anderson’s 2012-13 roster has plenty of new faces with only six scholarship players returning from last season.
So what better way to get acclimated to each other than with 10 summer practices and four games overseas?
The Razorbacks began preparing for next month’s tour in Italy on Monday, beginning a summer stretch Anderson believes will pay dividends when the regular season begins. But the second-year coach said the workouts in Bud Walton Arena will be more beneficial than actual games. Especially for newcomers.
“The practices are bigger from the standpoint that, these guys have never been through a full-scale practice,” Anderson said, referring to his new players. “So they’ll get a first-hand chance to go through it, and then go through it again, to see if they can withstand it, and see what it’s going to take. … That’s going to pay off when we get into October, and then get into our season.”
The group of new players includes guards Anthlon Bell, Michael Qualls and Dee Wagner. The Razorbacks also added new frontcourt players in Coty Clarke and JaCorey Williams. There are two transfers, too, in Alandise Harris and Fred Gulley although Anderson said neither will practice or travel with the team.
Gulley won’t be eligible to play until December after transferring from Oklahoma State last winter. Harris is awaiting a decision from the NCAA on his appeal for immediate eligibility after transferring from Houston.
The group of newcomers on the floor during Monday’s practice continued working to mesh with a returning core which includes B.J. Young, Mardracus Wade, Rashaad Madden, Rickey Scott and Hunter Mickelson. Forward Marshawn Powell also hit the practice floor with the Razorbacks on Monday afternoon, continuing to work his way back from last season’s torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Anderson said the Razorbacks are easing Powell back into basketball shape after the injury. Arkansas has not decided if he will play during the Italy trip, but Powell was moving well during Monday’s workout.
“He and I will sit down and visit about it,” Anderson said. “We will see what takes place here the next few days. But he has been involved. When we have been doing our individual workouts he has been doing a good job. He is doing everything he can to get back and be an impact with this team. So it’s good to have him around. Our guys respect him and look up to him.”
Arkansas will practice on campus before leaving for Italy on Aug. 10. They will play four games during the trip before returning to Fayetteville on Aug. 19.
Programs are permitted, under NCAA rules, to participate in an overseas summer tour once every four years. Arkansas did it once under former coaches John Pelphrey and Stan Heath, traveling to Cancun, Mexico, each time. The Razorbacks were eligible to make an offseason tour last season, but Anderson decided to hold off until his second year with the program.
“I thought it was important this year because we have so many new faces,” Anderson said. “Last year, there was a lot of question marks because of the players that we had here and the new players coming in. This year, I have a better feel for what’s here and what we are bringing it. … So now I want to see if we can’t just get that going a little bit earlier this year.”
It begins with the 10 practices, which Anderson emphasized again as the most important part of the overseas trip. But he said it won’t be the only thing Arkansas can accomplish with its bonus summer session.
“These guys get to go to a country and that can serve for many, many purposes - educational, cultural - something these guys can remember for the rest of their lives,” Anderson said. “But from a team standpoint a lot of good things can take place, bonding. … They are going to get the chance to spend a lot of time together and I think that’s priceless when you are talking about so many young guys.”