By Logan Wilson
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas had its top two leading scorers submit their names to the 2013 NBA draft following last season, leaving the Razorbacks nearly 30 points per game to make up next season.
Sophomore guard BJ Young (15.2 points per game) and junior forward Marshawn Powell (14.5 points per game) departed, but Arkansas signed a couple of top freshmen and added a walk-on in the off-season to help replace the production of the duo.
Little Rock native Bobby Portis and New Albany, Miss., native Moses Kingsley will be counted on to contribute in their true freshman seasons. Manuale Watkins, a walk-on from Fayetteville, has joined the team, as well.
“Obviously we’re in the summer, but we’ve got a couple of young guys in town,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “Bobby Portis is in town. Most of our team is here. Emmanuel Watkins is here. We expect Moses Kingsley to come up in the next few days, to be up for the second summer session, so as we progress through the summer months, we’re looking forward to 2013-14.
“I think we addressed some of our needs. Some of our needs are size. Not only size, but size guys. A guy like Bobby Portis, who had a tremendous high school career, but size that can play. We feel like he can come in and be of impact, as well as a guy such as Moses Kingsley.”
Portis was a McDonald’s High School All-American, one of 10 joining SEC teams this year. Anderson thinks the Little Rock Hall graduate will suit his style of play right away.
“I think he’s doing well,” Anderson said. “I think he’s a lot taller than we anticipated. I mean he’s 6-foot-10 1/2 and he’s put on a couple of pounds since he’s been here. He weighs almost 230. But our strength and conditioning program is taking place these summer months and he’s just kind of getting acclimated.
“That’s the key is getting acclimated to his teammates. Obviously we can see with the individual workouts that we’re having that he’s going to have a chance to have an impact this team. Just the fundamentals that he brings to the table in terms of catching the ball, passing the ball at the five. And he can really run the floor. I love his motor. He has a big-time motor. I think he fits well with this group right now.”
In addition to the incoming freshmen, perhaps one of the most likely candidates to be the Razorbacks’ leading scorer is the man who had to sit out last season after transferring from Houston — Alandise Harris. In the 2011-12 season, Harris averaged 13.3 points per game and 6.4 rebounds with the Cougars.
Harris and fellow forward Coty Clarke are both likely to be key contributors in the paint. Clarke recorded the team’s second-most rebounds last season, pulling down 5.2 boards per game. He also scored a combined 27 points in the Razorbacks’ two games, including an upset victory, against Florida and 14 points in the win over Kentucky.
“I tell you what, obviously scoring is going to be a big part of what we do,” Anderson said. “I think our defense is going to be the biggest part of it. But you’ve got to have someone who can put the ball in the hole. We feel a guy like Alandise Harris coming in, having a year to sit out and play against Marshawn and Coty (Clarke) and getting after those guys, he’s going to bring us a guy that can hopefully score for our basketball team.
“I think you’ll see the emergence of other guys. Coty Clarke. You saw his emergence last year. He’s a guy that possibly could give us, in terms of scoring, some points for us. I think we’ll be a different type of team. From that standpoint, a team that with five guys on the floor, you’re going to have to pay attention to all of them. I think they’re going to be capable of scoring. You’ve got to have a guy that you can go to.”
With Portis, Kingsley, Harris and Clarke likely to contribute in the frontcourt, perhaps the biggest question mark on the team is its guard play. Arkansas returns a variety of backcourt members, but the returning leading scorer among them is Mardracus Wade, who averaged just 6.5 points per game and saw his 3-point percentage lower to 29.1 percent after leading the conference in 2011-12 by making 47.6 percent of his shots beyond the arc. Anderson said 3-point land is a place Arkansas should improve its success in 2013-14.
“Mardracus will be a much better basketball player. You’ve got senior guys now that have had a couple of years of playing for us and now they’ve got a better understanding. When you start getting better talent, that really helps. A guy like Bobby Portis coming in, that’s going to be huge for our basketball team. And you’re still going to have the guys who gave you everything they had, such as Kikko Haydar. He’s going to give you everything he has. Anthlon Bell, he led our team in three-point shooting last year, so he’s a guy that’s going to get better.
“I think this is going to be a team that you’re going to have different guys really stepping up to compensate for the loss of two guys that actually got almost 30 points a game. I think when you put it all together, you’re going to have a team of people that are going to contend.”
Anderson has been one to stay away from naming a true point guard in his first two seasons as the Razorbacks’ head coach and this season appears to be no different. Regardless, Arkansas will need to replace Young’s team-leading 3.4 assists per game and Anderson said he is calling on a few specific guards to do that.
“What we’re seeing in our workouts is, when we do individual workouts and in team workouts, we’re seeing good ball movement,” Anderson said. “I made the statement that you’re seeing a lot of bonding taking place with this team. Guys are now starting to really figure out that we’re going to be as strong as our weakest link, so we’re going to be a team that’s going to share the basketball.
“A guy like Rickey Scott, he’s going to have to be able to be a better distributor of the basketball. Fred Gulley. Dee Wagner, a guy that was a freshman last year and played like a freshman at times, but now he’s got a better grasp. And I think the guy that really has a lot of talent and we’re looking for him to possibly have that kind of breakout year is (Rashad) “Ky” Madden.
“I think Ky, he has a great basketball IQ. He handles the basketball well, he can shoot the basketball, he can distribute it well. And his size is an advantage that is something we certainly have to take advantage of. He’s had a couple of years in our system now, so hopefully this year will be a year that he can come out and really shine for our basketball team.”