FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — The smell of a fresh coat of paint hung throughout Bud Walton Arena on Wednesday.
The sprucing up was part of an offseason of work inside Arkansas’ basketball home, though it’s only a small part of the “remodeling” coach Mike Anderson faces in his first year.
Anderson left Missouri in March to return to where he helped lead the Razorbacks to the 1994 national championship as an assistant coach under Nolan Richardson. His arrival was a homecoming of sorts, and it was treated as such with an estimated 5,000 Arkansas fans greeting Anderson during his introduction as former coach John Pelphrey’s replacement.
It’s a honeymoon that Anderson said has carried throughout the offseason and to now, with the Razorbacks set to begin practices Friday.
That was then, however, and this is now. And now means the harsh reality that Arkansas basketball isn’t the perennial power it was during Anderson’s first go-around at the school. The Razorbacks were 18-13 last season, missing the NCAA tournament for the third straight year.
“This is a new era,” Anderson said. “What took place here the last few years, that happened. Now we’re at another point in Razorback basketball history, and my goal is to take it to the top.”
Arkansas also saw a steady decline in attendance in Pelphrey’s four seasons from 17,148 his first season to 12,022 in 18 games last season in the 19,200-seat arena.
Anderson was 111-57 in five seasons at Missouri, including an appearance in the final eight in 2009. The Tigers were 23-11 last season, losing to Cincinnati in the first round of the NCAA tournament. He was 89-41 in four season at Alabama-Birmingham before that and has no doubt that the Razorbacks can return to one of the Southeastern Conference’s elite teams.
“We’re remodeling some of the offices; we’re gonna remodel the mindset of our players,” Anderson said. “And at the same time, remodel our fans and get them engaged.
“Our fans have always been a part of Razorback basketball.”
Anderson’s remodeling job could have the feel of a total makeover this season. Seven former players left Arkansas after last season, including three who transferred to other schools.
That includes scoring leader Rotnei Clarke, who initially said he would stay at Arkansas before transferring to Butler during the summer. Clarke averaged 15.2 points last season and shot 44 percent on 3-pointers.
“I always say, `I don’t worry about what I don’t have,”’ Anderson said. “We’re going to work with the players that we do have, and we’re going to field a team that’s going to be competitive.”
The Razorbacks, who have only 10 scholarship players, return only 45 percent of last season’s scoring and are counting on forward Marshawn Powell to help offset the roster turnover. Powell averaged 14.9 points per game as a freshman before a foot injury before last season limited his effectiveness.
Powell averaged 10.8 points per game last season, and his rebounding average fell from 6.7 per game as a freshman to 4.5 last season. The junior said he’s nearly fully recovered from another foot injury after last season, and he’s enjoyed a fresh start under Anderson.
“We appreciate coach just spending that time and working with us and giving us time to adjust to his system,” Powell said. “I just can’t wait. I’m excited; I’m ready.”
A talented group of four incoming freshmen are also being counted on for the Razorbacks, though Anderson warned, “They’re not gonna be the savior.” The highly recruited group includes Ky Madden, Devonta Abron, B.J. Young and Hunter Mickelson, and Madden said they’ve blended quickly with the upperclassmen.
“We don’t come in and think that we are the best, you know,” Madden said. “… We’re not Superman or (anything). We’re just here to help. As far as I’m concerned … I’m Robin.”
Copyright Associated Press