Mississippi County fans "call the Hogs" at Manila event
Steady progress has been made over the past three years in the University of Arkansas basketball program, coach Mike Anderson told a Mississippi County Razorback Club audience on Monday, May 5, in Manila.
And now is the time to take the next step, Anderson said, getting the Hogs back to their long-accustomed position of qualifying for the NCAA basketball tournament.
The Razorbacks have improved their win total in each of the veteran coach's three years at the helm, finishing this past season at 22-12 but falling just short of the the Big Dance. They did earn a spot in the National Invitational Tournament and reached the second round before falling on the road at California. Anderson pointed out that his team notched a 5-1 record against the final four participants in the NCAA and NIT, defeating Kentucky twice and SMU, Clemson and Minnesota once each while losing in overtime to Florida.
"In the past we have been players away from reaching our goal," the coach said. "Now we are plays away...people can see the hope."
Anderson flew into Manila late Monday afternoon and was greeted at the new terminal facility by a contingent that included Razorback Club
president Ray Benson, Manila mayor Wayne Wagner and State Rep. Wes Wagner.
Following a press conference at the terminal, Anderson signed autographs for fans and then addressed the Hog faithful at the annual banquet in the Airport Center. The meal was catered by Bigg Butts Barbecue of Leachville.
The coach was introduced by Razorback Foundation staffer Marvin Caston, who also made brief comments on the outstanding academic record of current U of A athletes and their commitment to community service in the Northwest Arkansas area.
"Consistency is the key now," Anderson said of his team. He noted the Hogs started the SEC season at 2-6 and then played 8-2 basketball the rest of the way. "We want to be that 8-2 team going forward," he said.
Anderson noted his team had significant scoring droughts that cost the Hogs several games. That must be overcome to reach team goals and fan expectations and he is confident it will happen.
"We have a lot of room to grow with this basketball team," he said, noting that a strong contingent returns for next year. "Experience is the greatest teacher," he said. "You saw a different team at the end of the year."
Anderson, long-term assistant to Hall of Fame coach Nolan Richardson, said his mentor "created a monster" with his success and everyone knows the only way to feed it is to win games. He sees signs the excitement of Razorback basketball is returning, as evidenced by a fan this past year who was wearing a sign that said "I Need Tickets."
"That was really good to see," the coach said, adding that the exciting style of play by his teams encourages fan enthusiasm and support. "I want to see 20,000 there every night," he said.
Anderson told the audience, in response to a question, that he believes in holding the players accountable and he is seeing a transformation in that regard. "If you want respect, you have to show respect," he said.
The coach noted his team's season kick-started after he withheld standouts Michael Qualls and Alandise Harris from the LSU game because of the violation of team rules.
The coach believes in developing a strong personal bond with his players. "I treat them like they are my own children," he said. "I really care about them on and off the court."
He is proud of the fact that six seniors from the basketball team earned their degrees at the close of this semester. "That's something you haven't seen in this program for awhile," he said.
The Head Hog went through details on each of the returning players and discussed some of the recent recruits.
Of particular interest in this area is former East Poinsett County star Rashad "Ky" Madden, who will enter his senior season as one of the leaders of the team.
Anderson said Madden has grown as a player and as a person under the current program's rules and approaches.
"Ky really picked it up in conference play," the coach said. He thinks Madden will benefit from the depth that will come from some of the new recruits at the guard position.
"His strength is that he is so versatile...we do need him to get stronger physically."
Anderson also is excited about the upcoming second year for McDonald's All-American Bobby Portis, a 6-10 player out of Little Rock Hall who earned second-team All-SEC honors. He said Portis is an extremely hard worker and he is expecting "a spectacular sophomore season" from a player who set an freshman single-game scoring record with 35 points against Alabama.
Asked about players with the most upside, Anderson quickly mentioned Portis' inside running mate, sophomore-to-be Moses Kingsley. He showed flashes of brilliance in his first year, especially as a rebounder and defensive force.
"Maturity will kick in," Anderson said about his expectations for next season shortly before ending the banquet by the traditional Calling of the Hogs. "We are looking forward to some really good things out of this team.
"We have been to the little dance and now we are ready for the Big Dance," Anderson said. "But we also want to WIN the big dance."
The Mississippi County Razorback Club traditionally has hosted some of the most successful banquets in the state and has contributed thousands of dollars to the university's program.