<
>

Mike Anderson hits the ground running

Asked whether his team knew what they were in for, Mike Anderson laughed.

It wasn’t exactly maniacal or evil, but there certainly was a hint of mad scientist around the edges.

“I gave them a little sample when we got here with some workouts,’’ the first-year Arkansas coach said. “And then I told them there’s much more to come.’’

Gentlemen, start your sneakers.

In his first few months on the job, Anderson has managed to re-recruit John Pelphrey’s ninth-ranked class and weather the transfers of three players, including leading-scorer Rotnei Clarke.

Now for the truly hard part. If Anderson is going to do what fans are counting on -- namely return the Razorbacks to the glory days of Nolan Richardson -- he’s going to have to turn some tortoises into hares.

The Hogs ranked 122nd nationally in scoring last season, averaging a pedestrian 70.7 points per game. Anderson’s Missouri team sprinted in at ninth, pouring in 81.4 ppg.

As critical as the offseason has been for the Hogs' future, the preseason will be every bit as important. Yes, he has good players, but how will those players adapt to a style they weren’t necessarily recruited to play?

“People talk about my style of play but to me, it’s basketball,’’ Anderson said. “It’s fundamentals. I like to speed it up. I like guys who can make basketball plays. I think we have guys with potential here, but we have to see if we can put it together. That’s the big chore.’’

It would be a big chore anywhere but it will be especially tricky for Anderson at Arkansas. This man represents the best of times to Razorback fans, back when the Hogs were among the most feared programs in the country. He stood alongside Richardson for three Final Fours, two national championship game appearances and one memorable title in 1994.

Anderson’s hiring, greeted by giddy calls of "Whoo Pig Sooie," has brought new hope to a state that universally adores its college team like few others.

And so there is little room for growing pains or awkward pauses, not here where Anderson wants to win for the fans just as desperately as they want him to win.

“There’s hope again,’’ Anderson said. “But with that said, the fans here aren’t just looking forward to seeing a style of play that is exciting. They want to see a style of play that is winning basketball. You always feel a responsibility as a coach, but when you spend 17 years in a place, I think that’s even bigger.’’

Until now, Anderson has played good cop, spending time getting to know his players and sowing the seeds of trust he hopes will pay dividends on the court. It hasn’t all worked. After an awkward tug of war, Clarke finally received his release from Anderson and took his 15 points per game to Butler.

It’s certainly a blow to the new coach, who now has just two returners (Julysses Nobles and Marshawn Powell) with any significant experience to help out those talented freshmen. But Anderson was philosophical about the split.

“As a coach, you want the guys who are going to be committed with both feet in,’’ he said. “You can’t worry about what you don’t have.’’

Now it’s time for Anderson to take the gloves off. He admits to being "demanding," which is a little like calling Bill Belichick demanding.

But Anderson is also a realist. As much as he and the fans might crave success right now, he knows it can’t happen instantaneously.

“I think you have to develop as the season goes on,’’ he said. “These guys have to learn. I like guys who can make decisions and they can all do that. I just like my guys to make their decisions a little quicker.’’

On your mark …