JONESBORO, Ark. -- Arkansas State began basketball practice over the weekend, and so far coach Dickey Nutt likes what he's seen.
"The things that jump out at us in the first couple of practices has been our athleticism, size, and I think you're going to see a better presence on the inside, which has been our weakness for the last couple of years," Nutt said. "Our guards have picked up where we left off."
Arkansas State, which was 17-11 overall and 7-7 in the Sun Belt Conference last season, returns two starters in Dewarick Spencer and J.J. Montgomery. They were the top scorers in the SBC last year with 19 points and 17.9 points per game, respectively.
Isaac Wells, Marcus Ardison and Kitus Witherspoon were all added this season to improve the inside game for the Indians and take the place of Kim Adams, who exhausted his eligibility last year.
Ardison is a 6-6 post player and Witherspoon is still recovering from an accident suffered earlier this year but is practicing and is expected to play. Wells, a power forward, sat out last season after being ruled academically ineligible.
"He is very athletic, but this is his first year in Division I basketball so it is going to be a big test for him. We expect him to contribute to this team immediately with his scoring, rebounding and defense," Nutt said.
Out front, the Indians have added Jerry Nichols, a first-team junior college All-America last season, and Dereke Tipler, another junior college transfer.
They join Andre King-Holland, who Nutt said has had an excellent offseason, and Lorenzo Hampton, who played significant minutes last year. Nutt said another returnee, Theo Little, has progressed more than any other player during the off season and would be in the starting lineup today.
Nutt said he believes mental and physical fatigue were factors in losses last season, so he has had his players working with strength and conditioning coach Ross Miller.
"We have been through brutal preseason workouts. We have really tried to up our conditioning and our toughness. We lost five games, I think, by one or two points and that really put a bad taste in our mouths," Nutt said.