For Razorback fans, the question never gets old: Will basketball coach Mike Anderson lift the program to the same levels reached by his mentor Nolan Richardson? Tonight’s game, on the road against No. 20 Iowa State, should provide the best start of an answer yet. The greatest Arkansas teams of the early to mid 1990s regularly defeated ranked non-conference teams away from home but that hasn’t happened since 1997*. But, so far, all signs point to this being the best Arkansas team since that era.
The most dramatic evidence is below. Look at this steady improvement through Anderson’s first four seasons in Fayetteville:
The Razorbacks’ scalding shooting from the outside this season – 46% on three-pointers – has been a major reason for the boost in Effective FG % and True Shooting % (definitions below). That shooting helps space the floor and lead to a nation-leading assist rate. But the Razorbacks can’t rely on shooting at this clip in the kind of hostile environment the Cyclones’ Hilton Coliseum will present. So it’s important they get to the line and build an early lead.
Referee bias (conscious or not) toward the home college team makes it doubly difficult for visitors to play from behind or in a back-and-forth affair. “On the road especially you want to help keep the officiating out of it as much as you can,” Nolan Richardson said in a phone interview.
As always, defense fuels offense for a “40 Minutes of Hell”-style program. The below numbers show that while Arkansas is playing at a faster rate than ever in the Anderson era (78 possessions per 40 minutes vs. 72 in his first year), they are barely giving up more points. This is a credit to the lower rate at which they are fouling this year than the past two seasons (more experienced players) and fresher second-half legs generating turnovers at a higher clip (more depth).
It’s likely older Razorback stars like Bobby Portis, Rashad Madden and Michael Qualls will play well at Iowa State, where the Cyclones are 50-4 the last five years, Iowan-Arkansan sportswriter Nate Olson points out. They proved they could deliver on the road last season and have played in similarly intense arenas like Kentucky’s.
The pivotal issue is how Arkansas’ three first-year guards – Anton Beard, Jabril Durham and Nick Babb – play. “You’re as good as your guards take you,” Richardson said. So far, all three have played their supporting roles well but they have played in only one game away from Bud Walton Arena. While often what’s needed is a timely, clutch three in the vein of Scotty Thurman, this year the right play may simply be avoiding a turnover and making a timely entry pass to Portis. Last year, “we got discombobulated in the final few minutes of games,” Portis told USA Today, recalling seven losses in ten road games. “Are we going to finish teams off? That’s the biggest question.”
To me, North Little Rock native Anton Beard is the most important of the three young guards. Perhaps I’m simply biased, as I have followed him closely since he was a freshman in high school and seen many of his games at Parkview High and North Little Rock. He’s a champion, point blank, winning three state titles in four years. Point guards simply don’t start for Parkview coach Al Flanigan as freshmen. He’s the only one who has, and that season I watched him lead his team to a victory at Hall High School in the middle of its four-year run of consecutive state championships.
So far, Beard the collegian freshman has played the role of a scrappy, clutch shooter (46.2% on threes) off the bench who has a not-stellar 1.2 assists-to 1 turnover ratio. “Beard is moving in a pretty good direction,” Richardson said. “For the Razorbacks to be where they got to be, his game has got to improve.” Beard is fairly stocky, but Richardson says he (and all other current Razorback guards) don’t compare in the physical toughness department to Corey Beck, the point guard of his ’94 title team. “Beck was an animal.”
Perhaps the most apt comparison for Beard, at this point, is Arlyn Bowers who ended up pairing with Lee Mayberry as guards in Arkansas’ 1990 Final Four run. Two years before that, Bowers and Mayberry were just starting out as freshmen in Nolan Richardson’s fourth year as head coach.
Just six games into Year 4, it’s difficult to conduct a thorough comparison of Nolan Richardson and Mike Anderson as Razorback head coaches. Obviously, the jury’s still out on Anderson. But the sample size is large enough now to at least take a look:
Comparing these numbers with the last four seasons, we see Anderson’s teams have improved at more steady clip, year by year, in most categories. And from an overall statistical standpoint, Anderson’s Year 4 is significantly more impressive so far than Nolan’s.
But it’s important to note that Nolan’s Year 3 team finished 11-5 in conference vs. the 10-8 record Mike’s Year 3 team had. Nolan made the tournament in 1987-88 (losing in the first round to Villanova) whereas Mike hasn’t yet. In Year 4, Nolan got a massive injection of talent when Bowers and Mayberry arrived, along with fellow freshmen Todd Day and Oliver Miller. Their play paid immediate dividends, and the Hogs ultimately finished 13-3 in conference and 25-7 overall. They lost in the 1989 NCAA Tournament’s second round.
We’ll see if Mike’s Year 4 team keeps pace. A win tonight certainly certainly helps toward that end.
* November 29, 1997 was the last time Arkansas beat a ranked team on a neutral court in pre-conference play. Arkansas beat No. 17 Fresno State in Phoenix. And December 6, 1992 was the last time the program scored such a win on the road. The Hogs beat No. 9 Arizona in Tucson, AZ. Mike Bibby was 14 years old.
** Using data from six of Hogs’ first seven games in 1988-89 (Box score from Game No. 5 not available at HogStats.com).PS: Partial season data not available for Turnovers Forced Per Game, so this stat instead reflects per-game average from entire 1988-89 season.
Effective Field Goal % adds weight to three-point shots. Formula: (FGM + (0.5 x 3PM))/FGA
True Shooting % is similar, but also factors in free throws. Formula: Pts/(2*(FGA + (.44*FTA)))
It’s a weekday morning in early September. Why is Razorback legend Marcus Monk driving to a place in southwest Arkansas that translates to “skull crusher”?
No, the 28-year-old Monk isn’t trying to resurrect his football career by challenging All-Pro NFL defensive end J.J. Watt to a “Hunger Games”-style wrestling match. Nor is he heading to Cossatot River High School to raft the equally dangerous whitewaters nearby that inspired the French to call it “cassé-tête.”
Instead Monk, Arkansas’ all-time leader in touchdown catches, is traveling Interstate 49 to help with a camp his former high school basketball coach organized. The coach, Kevin Kyzer, coached Monk more than a decade ago at East Poinsett County High School in Lepanto, Ark. Monk was one of the most decorated athletes the area has ever produced, a top-100 prep basketball player heading into a senior year in which he averaged 20.8 points, 16.4 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 3.8 blocks and 2.5 steals a game while leading EPC to a 35-1 record along with its first Class AAA state title.
Monk lives in Fayetteville, where he starred for the Hogs as a wide receiver 2004-07, but firmly believes he owes time and support to the people he knew growing up in northeast Arkansas. Most every year since he graduated college, he’s organized benefit games or camps to help raise funds for school supplies for elementary schools in Poinsett County. “Education is really important. It can change lives,” says Monk, an EPC valedictorian. “I do it to try to show my appreciation and try to give back.”
This mindset – whether applying to community, team or family – isn’t new. In 2004, he told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: “The first thing I’m going to do if I go pro in either football or basketball is to make sure my mother and Malik [his 6-year-old brother] are taken care of. I’m going to pay her back for all she’s done for me and give this town someone to be proud of.”
Since 2012, all three Monks have moved from northeast to northwest Arkansas for better job and education opportunities. Whether they will remain there two years from now is something millions of college basketball fans around the nation want to know.
Heading into summer of 2007, the storybook ending seemed so close: The millions of dollars, the endorsement deals, the wonderful new home mom always deserved. Monk been been a dual sport athlete as a freshman, playing spare minutes in basketball but announcing himself as a star in football. He had a junior season for the ages, helping Arkansas soar to 7-1 conference mark and the SEC title game while tallying 50 catches, 962 yards and a school-record 11 touchdowns. At 6-6, and 220 pounds, Monk was plenty physically imposing. Mix in his uncanny field awareness, high IQ and soft hands, and he had the makings of a top NFL prospect.
Then, during an August practice, Monk suffered a knee injury that required two surgeries and knocked him out of the first seven games. He returned to finish his senior season, but was never the same on the football field. The Chicago Bears drafted Monk in the seventh round of the 2008 NFL Draft, but he didn’t make the team. Stints with the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers also didn’t pan out. “I did get cut from the game I love, but I knew that I had my education and I could pretty much do whatever I wanted to as long as I put my mind to it,” he says. “I’ve always known that you can’t play forever. One advantage I did have was I stayed on top of my schoolwork.”
Indeed, Monk graduated college with a business degree in three and a half years. He came back in the late 2008 to take graduate courses in real estate and finance, and to give basketball another shot – this time primarily to keep in shape for NFL tryouts. Nearly four years after he’d last played, Monk rejoined the Hog basketball program. While taking graduate courses in real estate and finance, Monk averaged 4.5 points and 3.1 rebounds in the 2008-09 season. He helped the Razorbacks knock off No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 7 Texas at home.
Behind the scenes, he was a valuable leader for a young squad that included six freshmen and was at one point down to 10 scholarship players. “He brought that kind of calm, cool and collected mindset and attitude and you could tell he was the most mature one out there,” recalls Nick Mason, one of the six freshmen. “He was talking to guys in the locker room, making sure everybody had their grades straight – or whatever problems they had. I can remember him talking to guys – especially the freshmen – about girls, if they were having girl problems.”
Monk also developed respect for then-Razorback head coach John Pelphrey that developed into friendship. He said Pelphrey has been “a mentor,” checking in with him while he was playing professional basketball in Germany in 2010-2012. They remained friends when Monk briefly moved back to northeast Arkansas, and started helping train his friend, former Razorback and NBA player Ronnie Brewer, Jr. John Pelphrey is now a University of Florida assistant coach. When he calls now, it’s to check up on Monk as well as his younger brother Malik.
Malik Monk, a 16-year old junior at Bentonville High School, is one of the nation’s most highly recruited basketball players. Almost every major program, including Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina and Indiana, has offered him a scholarship. Pelphrey, who met Malik when he was a boy tagging behind Marcus Monk at Bud Walton Arena, now recruits him.
The bigger star Malik becomes, the more Marcus is known as Malik’s older brother as opposed to Marcus’ younger brother. This kind of perception change doesn’t disorient Marcus in the least. In his eyes, his role is crystal clear: Help protect Malik’s time, ensure he maintains his grades, allow him to be as much of a kid as possible. This means it’s often Marcus, or his mother, who take calls from college coaches and media on behalf of Malik.
While Marcus is a Razorback in so many ways, he doesn’t intend to sway Malik toward his own alma mater. The Monks are weighing which programs best suited to provide Malik both with the start of a good college education as well as what Malik hopes is a one-year preparation for a successful NBA career. Marcus is able to provide Malik – along with Malik’s summer league teammates – with advice borne of his own experience of being a highly recruited student-athlete. “I get a chance to spend time with my brother, but I also have 12 other guys that I’m responsible for and I’m a big brother to them as well.”
Last basketball season, Marcus helped mentor some of the current Razorback basketball players. He was finishing a Master’s of Business Administration degree at the University of Arkansas and volunteer assisted with the team, helping in various ways such as cutting film and devising scouting reports. The experience was valuable for any possible future college coaching. It also allowed him to spend more time with his cousin, Rashad “Ky” Madden, also a Lepanto, Ark. native.
Madden, a senior guard, is the team’s leading scorer and its most experienced player. Between Malik and Marcus in age, he is essentially like a middle brother. All three frequently talk with each other. “That’s like my little brother,” Marcus says of Madden. “I love him. I’ve been knowing him a long, long time. We’re from the same place, the same neighborhood … It’s more personal between me and Ky.”
Just as Malik prepares for a transition into the world of college basketball, and Ky prepares for a potential pro basketball career, Marcus too finds himself at a crossroads. In May, he graduated with an MBA and stays connected to his classmates for potential job leads. He spent much of this summer on the road with Malik and his summer travel team, and in September was working on the launch of his brother’s Web site. He says he doesn’t yet know if he will stay in northwest Arkansas for the next year or two, although he does want to be around Malik as he finishes high school.
Some see Marcus settling into a full-time job in northwest Arkansas as a sign that Malik would be a Razorback. Marcus says just as he and Malik haven’t yet settled on an eventual college destination, nor has he decided what career path he’ll venture down next.
“I’m in a transition stage,” he says. Whether a job in training, coaching, business or something else, “if something appears that is hard for me to turn down, then I definitely have to consider it.” But, he adds, “as far as priorities, my family is first come.”
Marcus Monk is no longer the spectacular receiver who seemingly could catch anything thrown his way. Instead, these days, Marcus Monk the giver pursues something much higher.
Much has been made about the surge in the Razorbacks’ recruiting prowess under head football coach Bret Bielema. By early September, he’d been able to get commitments from more ESPN300 recruits than at any time since 2006. A large part of this success comes from the state of Florida, from where Bielema, assistant Randy Shannnon and others have been able to pull in major game-changing talents like running back Alex Collins and offensive lineman Denver Kirkland.
There could be another game-changing talent coming to Arkansas from Florida. Although this time, it would come in the form of an Arkansan – not a Floridian. KeVaughn Allen, a top 50 national recruit in basketball, is a North Little Rock High School senior who has announced he’s attending the University of Florida. K.J. Hill, Allen’s teammate and also an elite recruit in football, has other ideas.
Hill, who recently committed to Arkansas, told Sync’s Nate Olson he believes he can convince Allen to de-commit from Florida and become the latest high flyer to join Arkansas’ program. “When I go back to basketball I will talk to him even more,” Hill said. “It’s on my mind. I think I can get him to come [to Arkansas].”
The 6’1″ Hill, who said he received interest to play basketball for the likes of Wichita State, Baylor and Michigan State, is considering playing football and basketball for Arkansas next season. “Coach Anderson wants me to start talking to him about it,” Hill told Olson. “I think he wants me to play.”
Although his long-term athletic future is likely as a dynamic wide receiver, in SEC basketball, Hill projects to be a disruptive defensive force at guard. If he can get Allen to flip, though, likely his most impressive collegiate assist would arrive before he ever plays in an official game.
On the football front, it appears K.J. Hill is most interested in the rebuilding efforts going on at the biggest programs here and in the Buckeye State:
Q: You have said you are going to look around a little bit and visit other schools. But Razorbacks fans shouldn’t worry too much about you going elsewhere, right?
A: I just want to see different schools and just see how different schools are. I’d like to see Ohio State and Urban Meyer. I have never been up there. I want to see the facilities and the campus.
Q: Will Gragg, a Dumas 4-star tight end, is going to make a decision soon. Do you feel confident he will pick Arkansas? And do you think you can get La’Michael Pettway, a Nashville 3-star athlete, to commit, too? What are your strategies to get them to commit to Arkansas?
A: Even before I was committed, recruits from in-state and out of state were asking me where I was going to go. Coach Bielema told me that I don’t realize how much other players are looking at what I do. I wasn’t thinking about it like he was thinking about it, but then when I committed a lot of stuff started changing. Players started asking, “Do you think we can get it done?” and stuff like that. La’Michael Pettway was asking me and then de-comitted, and Will is 100 percent onboard. I think he is going to come. Everyone has been asking me for the longest where I was going to go, so when I decided, that made them think about it.
Read the entire interview at syncweekly.com
In other news, below is an interesting excerpt from an ESPN.com article published today. In the wake of Arkansas’ 49-29 win against Texas Tech, it delves into specific reasons why Bret Bielema’s increasingly counter-cultural football tactics are becoming so difficult to prepare for:
“The game has evolved so much while we have stayed consistent,” Bielema said, according to ESPN. “We have remained very, very firm in our beliefs and my philosophy of recruiting a certain player to play in this offense.
“Those programs that don’t recruit fullbacks and tight ends and linemen the way we do, it makes us really get a niche on those players. We really truly can go coast to coast and recruit the best linemen in the country. We did it when I was at Wisconsin and we’re doing it now.”
Arkansas may not play with pace, but it uses plenty of force, and it’s a wake-up call to the increasing number of teams that value speed over power. “Programs just don’t have anyone on their roster to emulate a 250-pound fullback,” Bielema said. “They don’t have a 280-pound tight end. They don’t have a roster of 330-pound linemen to simulate that.”
Interesting interview today from CBS with the Houston Rockets’ new starting point guard. Things are looking up now for Beverley’s career, but that wasn’t the case nearly three years ago when he was freezing his butt off in Russia trying to earn a buck:
What comes to mind when you think back to being overseas and wanting to be in the league, following it from afar?
Actually when I was overseas I didn’t watch any NBA. I was like, ‘Forget the NBA,’ and this and that. ‘Cause I was hurt that I wasn’t on an NBA team. I kind of was rebellious when it came to that because I was kind of jealous and envious that I wasn’t on an NBA team, so I kind of just focused on my game and focused on overseas.
[and staying warm, I should add]
Cold as f**k in Russia!!!!! -13 pic.twitter.com/j9nfhAbm
— Patrick Beverley (@patbev21) November 26, 2011
Most of the interview covers his summer activities (which included a ton of workouts with fellow Chicago natives Derrick Rose, Will Bynum, Tony Allen) but at one point he did have a chance to talk about his two seasons playing for the University of Arkansas:
Do you ever stop and think about your journey, coming from Chicago and going overseas before the league?
All the time. I’ll never forget where I come from. Especially my humble beginnings. I’m appreciative and I’m more humble than anything, especially with me and my grandmother, her still staying in the city. So when I go back, I see all of that again and I’m just in a position where I’m blessed and I can kind of take care of others. It puts me in a position where I appreciate things more, you know?
Chance not taken.
Little wonder he didn’t want to rehash a messy departure that included half-accusations of his Razorback teammates cheating on tests. “Someone from Arkansas was doing papers, was doing me and some of my teammates’ papers,” Beverley said in 2009. “Basically, instead of ratting my team out, I just said it was just me. I was forced to have a year of ineligibility.”
Messiness Schpelphryness, I really I loved watching P-Bev play. (Still do) He remains the best 6-2 or shorter rebounder at the major college level I have ever seen. Put somebody like him on this current Razorback basketball team, and they’re making the Sweet Sixteen.
Great work by the folks at Courtside Films, who put together an authoritative summer highlight package on Malik Monk – the springy Bentonville High junior who is developing into one of the most highly recruited players in state history regardless of sport.
Here are two interesting take-aways from an interview in the video:
1. It’s unclear exactly how high Malik can jump these days, but he had a running vertical jump of 42 inches in the eighth grade. He told me last spring he helped develop some of that extraordinary leg power by running through the mud that would form in the rural backyard after it rained.
2. His home – before 10th grade – was in Lepanto, Ark., the Monks’ native town to which Malik gives a shout out in the above video. He also gave an shout out to The Woods, the neighborhood he grew up in (across the street from his cousin, Razorback guard Ky Madden). Finally, he gave props to “SYM,” which is something I want to find out more about.
“SYM” stands the Lepanto friends of Malik and his older Marcus Monk, Marcus told me via text. Marcus Monk, as well their mother Jackie, are definitely at the top of the Malik Monk Inner Circle Hierarchy (which I refuse to henceforth refer to as the I.C.H.)
Back in Lepanto, the family has a lot of close friends and relatives, including the Maddens (Indeed, Ky Madden often Tweets out #sym) and Malik’s brothers Byron and Aaron Scales. On Malik’s Twitter page, Malik pays homage to his cousin Troy Tucker, who died three years ago from complications of sickle cell anemia. Next week, in an interview for Letterman Magazine, I’ll ask him and Marcus more about who/what “SYM” are, but Malik might have thrown out a clue by mentioning two people below:
— Kilam (@AhmadMonk) August 21, 2014
I don’t know who @Dero7_GH is, but it appears that Rod Winkler is a University of Arkansas student who loves himself some basketball. Based on the profile image of his Twitter account, this appears to be the same Rod Winkler who caused a minor stir last January by getting into a heated, impromptu defensive positioning tutorial with Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison after UK lost to Arkansas in Fayetteville:
It doesn’t appear Winkler is from Lepanto (his Twitter feed and this article cite Little Rock as his hometown), but I don’t want to speculate. Maybe he lived in the Lepanto area earlier in life, after all. He probably never lived in Auburn Hills, Michigan, as the following image created by Kentucky Sports Radio of Winkler taking his game to the proverbial next level would have the simpletons among us believe.
Thank you for your explosive dunking, Malik Monk. And so long as you don’t get involved in actual Malice in any sort of Palace, I also give thanks to you, Rod Winkler, for making our world a less boring place.
As far as I know, this is the only version of the 4-page thing available online. Here’s the first half. Below’s the second:
[Below is text not entirely visible in the above and below sections]:
He coached five seasons at Tulsa, going 119-37 for a searing .763 winning percentage. But every great character in American literature faces adversity … faces heartbreak. And so it was for Nolan Richardson.
“It was Monday, right after the NCAA pairings were released (in 1985) and we thought our daughter Yvonne was sick with the flu,” he said. “We were getting ready to play UTEP in the NCAA Tournament…
These are scans from the official Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinement program. Ten members were inducted in the Class of 2014. One of them happened to be Arkansas’ favorite firebrand coach.
Here’s Part Two, which delves into the Arkansas years and features insight from Mike Anderson.