Joe Kleine Breaks Down Bobby Portis’ Post Game, Discusses North Carolina

kleine2

I had the chance to talk to the Razorback legend for a North Carolina-Arkansas mini oral history which runs on Sporting Life Arkansas today. Kleine, who recently finished his eighth season as an assistant coach with UALR, was pivotal figure in leading Arkansas to an historic 1984 win over No. 1 UNC. I couldn’t help also ask him about what will happen in Saturday night’s second round game between the programs, in which Arkansas has a shot to break into its first Sweet 16 since 1996.

Q: What’s your take on the Tar Heels?

A: I think they’re talented. Especially Marcus Paige –  he’s a really good point guard. Any time you’re pressuring as much as Arkansas does, a really good point guard worries you. Because he gets through there, he can cause a lot of trouble.”

Q: Bobby Portis has had a great season, you agree. In order for him to take his game to the next, where do you think he must most improve?

A: I’m a little leery to critique him because I’m not there, seeing him every day. These are things I’ve noticed just one or two times – in his post play, as with all young post players, he’s got to develop a counter move with his left hand.

I’ve seen him do some things with his off hand but he’s got to get the point where he can put it up over his shoulder with Taken by Marc Henning of marcfhenning.comhis left hand as well as he does on the other side. Still, I love his face up game and his rebounding. He has a tenacity there that is a really, really good sign … He just has to continue to work on his face up game, get to the point where he can drive as well with his left hand as with his right.

Q: Sounds like he would do well to spend a little time in Hakeem Olajuwon’s post-up training academy.

A: I’m 53 years old, and I would be well served by spending time in that academy. That man is simply amazing.

Q: How good can Bobby be?

A: Worst case scenario, for Bobby Portis, I see Joe Kleine – a guy who can play a long time in the league, can spot shoot, can defend. Whether he can be a big time scorer, that remains to be seen. His ability to score against bigger, taller, more athletic guys is going to be indicative of what kind of career he’s going to have.

Q: Overall, who do you expect to win on Saturday night?

A: You could make an argument either way. You’ll have two good teams playing on edge, that have a lot to lose, with a lot of emotion. It’ll bring out the best in both of them … I’m a fan of Arkansas – that’s gonna push me toward them. I wouldn’t want to make a living having to pick the outcome of that game.

Q: UALR head coach Steve Shields was just let go. It’s hard for me not to ask: What are your plans now?

A: I want the job. I’ve thrown my name in, I’ll put that way.


Mike Anderson On One of the Strangest Box Scores in SEC History

Portis' three blocks contributed to a stat line funkification you won't believe.

Portis’ three blocks contributed to a stat line funkification you won’t believe. (courtesy Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc.)

Arkansas assistant coach Matt Zimmerman couldn’t believe it.

As ushers swept the seats of a cavernous Bud Walton Arena behind him, he sat courtside, looking down at the box score of a game that had just finished. It wasn’t the 81-75 final score that surprised him. These days, it seems, his No. 18 Hogs go into every game legitimately expecting to win. No, it was the way in which Arkansas had sewn up its seventh straight win.

On this bitter cold night, Texas A & M had outrebounded Arkansas 44 to 23. In the Razorbacks’ 40 Minutes of Hell style, getting out rebounded happens. Usually not by this much, but it happens.

The weird part?

While giving up so many boards – a stat stronger, bigger and more athletic teams usually win – Arkansas somehow also held a 12 to 0 advantage in block shots. Which is, of course, a stat that also usually goes to the taller, more athletic team. In this game, Alandise Harris likely had the defensive game of his year, chipping in four blocked shots, while Moses Kingsley and Bobby Portis added three swats each. Yet the fact that not a single Aggie touched an Arkansas shot attempt is a testament to the Hogs’ discipline and shot selection on offense.

Matt Zimmerman couldn’t recall such an unlikely disparity in his decades of coaching. Same goes for his boss Mike Anderson. “I’ve had some teams that have gotten out-rebounded by about 20, yeah, and [still] win the game” the head coach said.  “On a of lot of those rebounds [the Aggies] would shoot it and go back and get it, shoot it and go back and get it. But we’ve got to correct that. To have 12 blocked shots and for them to have zero, that tells me our guys were pretty accurate. And in the first half we were blocking those shots and we were coming up with them, we were heading down the other end on the fast break. So, to do that against a team like Texas A&M – that tells me we are getting better.”

So, has anything like this ever happened before? 

It’s very rare. I have confirmed Arkansas has pulled off the only -20 or more rebound/+10 or more block disparity in a Division I game this season. But, thanks to a tip from HogStats.com, it appears one Razorback team did something similar on December 11, 1990. In that game, a 10-point Arkansas win, Hogs center Oliver Miller went off for nine blocks and the team tallied 15 in all, according to separate records found by the HogStats editor.

Yet perhaps Miller was too hungry for a record-setting block night to corral many defensive rebounds, because South Alabama out-rebounded Arkansas 60-34 (Miller finished with seven total rebounds). We don’t know how many blocks South Alabama got this game (team blocks aren’t recorded in that season’s media guide), but it’s likely the number was less than five. If anybody can find record of that stat, please let me know.

N.B. Anderson would have actually coached in this game, as an assistant under Nolan Richardson, but I won’t hold it against him for not being to recall this one specific time in the .60 seconds he had to respond to me.

Dear readers, do you recall any other crazily anomalous statistical disparity games in college basketball history?


Mike Anderson Vs. Nolan Richardson: Comparing Their First 4 Years At Arkansas

nolan-mike far

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:

imageThe 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).

image(1)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:

image(2)[Most conferences didn’t adopt the three-point shot until 1986-87. So 1985-86 Effective FG % stats reflect two-point field goal percentage only.]

image(3)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)))


Only List of Arkansan National Team Basketball Players & Coaches Known to Man

It's a good feeling - that feeling of not being alone.

The feeling of not being alone is a good one.

As you know, Hamburg native Scottie Pippen made the original Dream Team in 1992 and the 1996 Olympic team which grabbed Gold in Atlanta. Pippen made by far the greatest splash of any national team Arkansan, but he wasn’t the first to do so in an Olympics. That honor goes to Gordon Carpenter, native of Ash Flat in northeast Arkansas. And there are plenty others who have made national teams for other competitions. Below, I present the first (and I will bet you $25 only) comprehensive list anybody has ever bothered to assemble on the topic:

 

1. Gordon Carpenter

Carpenter, a 6’6″, 200-pound big affectionately known as “Shorty,” was one of Arkansas’ first great basketball players. He led Ash Flat in northeast Arkansas to the 1939, upsetting much bigger teams in Little Rock and Pine Bluff,  and then went on to star on the University of Arkansas’ first Final Four team in 1941. He led the Hogs to their first undefeated SWC record and ended his college career on the All-SWC team.

He then played for the Phillips 66 powerhouse basketball team, which was technically amateur and allowed him to retain eligibility for international play (the Olympics were then off-limits to paid professional athletes). The Phillips 66 team was on par with the best professional teams of the era, and Carpenter helped lead them to six straight national titles. He made the AAU All-America team each year from 1943-1947 and helped his team qualify to represent the U.S. in the 1948 Olympics by beating the University of Kentucky in a Madison Square Garden (weird, I know).

In those London Olympics, Carpenter had a turn as hero, according to this bookIn a game against Argentina, the U.S. was trailing by six points with four minutes to go. Coach then inserted Carpenter and he scored 10 points in two minutes to help the Americans turn the tide and win. The final score of the game was 59-57, according to linguasport.com.

Two years later, Carpenter became head coach of the national team at the first basketball World Championship (now called the basketball World Cup) in 1950. The host nation, Argentina, took Gold and the U.S. took Silver.

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Gordon “Shorty” Carpenter (R) Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimmy_McNatt

 

2. Jim “Bad News” Barnes

A native of Tuckerman in Sharp Co., the 6’8″, 240-pound Barnes trumps Corliss Williamson, Andrew Lang (and so far Bobby Portis) as the most dominant collegian big man the state has produced. He was dirt poor as a child, often playing in socks because his family couldn’t afford shoes. Around 18 years of age, he moved to Oklahoma to finish high school. Barnes then dominated junior college competition for two years, and then did the same at Texas Western. He averaged 29 points and 19 rebounds his senior year, and a few months later became the first of two Arkansans ever drafted #1 overall in an NBA or NFL draft.

Before his pro career, though, Barnes traveled to Tokyo with other top collegians like Larry Brown and Bill Bradley. He was the fifth-leading scorer on the Gold-winning team. In the Finals, the U.S. squared off against the U.S.S.R.  Barnes’ speed and agility, like center Bill Russell’s four years before, was a big reason the Soviets could not hang with the Americans.

That team’s head coach was Henry Iba, who happened to the mentor of Barnes’ college coach Don Haskins. Coincidentally, Haskins became the mentor to Nolan Richardson, one of Barnes’ Texas Western teammates. Richardson thought highly of Barnes’ character: “Jim was one of those men who was thrilled to play for their country. He took the opportunity seriously and played every possession hard.”

 

3, Sidney Moncrief

When it comes to  Moncrief and Larry Bird sharing the same court, the headliner will forever be their legendary showdown in the Elite Eight of the 1979 NCAA Tournament. Before these two All-Americans clashed in front of a national audience, though, they had two summers before joined forces to topple other countries.

In 1977, the Little Rock native represented the U.S. in the World University Games (similar to what would be a U-21 competition today). Moncrief helped the U.S. tear through the event, in Bulgaria, with an 8-0 record. He led the Americans with 16 points in the finals against the U.S.S.R.

Undoubtedly, Sid shot the ball at a high clip that tourney. It’s amazing to think that as a freshman, the 6’4″ forward led the entire nation in field goal percentage, as this July 26, 1977 article  points out:


Click here for a larger image.

NB: You’ll notice one of the assistant coaches was none other than Bill Vining of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia. The national team program wanted coaches from all levels of college basketball, and Vining, being the small college level bad-ass he was, was selected to rep that segment.

 

4. Marvin Delph

Another one of Arkansas’ famed Triplets, Delph was a part of a wonky 1978 World Championship team made up of neither college or professional players. College players should have filled out its roster but by October – when the event occurred – they were already in preseason and prohibited from competing.

So the U.S. sent a squad made up mostly of Athletes In Action (a religious organization) ballers, and finished 6-4. This isn’t all that bad considering many of the communist national teams were made up of essentially professional players who had state-provided sinecure jobs.

Delph, a Conway native, averaged only 5.5. points in the six games he played. But hey, the U.S. was 5-1 in those games (losing only to the U.S.S.R.), so that’s something.

Read the rest of this entry »


Projecting Draft Potential of Bobby Portis – the UA’s 6th All-SEC Freshman

Is Portis underrated by NBA draftniks?

Is Portis underrated by NBA draftniks? Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Arkansas freshman big man Bobby Portis earned a pair of SEC postseason honors on Tuesday, as the Little Rock native was named to the All-SEC second team and the SEC All-Freshman team..

According to the UA sports information department, the Hogs have landed 15 players on the SEC All-Freshman team while Portis is just the sixth freshman in program history to earn All-SEC honors. During his standout rookie campaign, Portis also collected three SEC Player of the Week accolades, which equaled the record previously set by current Houston Rocket Patrick Beverley in 2007.

One of Portis’ weekly honors came on the heels of breaking the Arkansas freshman scoring record with 35 points against Alabama on Feb. 5 at Bud Walton Arena, dethroning current Director of Student-Athlete Development Scotty Thurman. The 35-point night was the most by a Razorback since 2002, and the third-most points scored by an SEC player this season. Portis accounted for 29 of the team’s first 35 points, while also adding nine rebounds and a season-best six blocks.

Portis enters the SEC Tournament averaging 12.4 points and 6.6 rebounds, ranking second and first on the team, respectively. The 6-foot-10 forward has reached double figures in 20 games with a team-best three doubles and is the only Razorback to start all 31 games. Portis ranks 10th in the SEC in rebounding and tied for fifth in blocks (1.6), while also showcasing his all-round skill with 46 assists and 35 steals.

The first Arkansas signee since 2004, and the 13th overall, to play in the McDonald’s All-American game, Portis has lived up to the hype and has a chance to become the first freshman in program history to lead the team in scoring and rebounding in the same season. Portis also needs just 12 rebounds to break the freshman record of 211 set by Marshawn Powell in 2010.

Fifth-seeded Arkansas (21-10) will begin play at the SEC Tournament on Thursday, taking on the winner of Auburn/South Carolina in a 2:30 p.m. CT game on SEC TV. The Razorbacks earned a first round bye and head to Atlanta with wins in eight of their last 10 games.

So when and where will Portis end up going in the NBA Draft?

NBA Draft Express has him at #19 in the 2015 Draft, one behind Kentucky’s Dakari Johnson. Curiously, NBA Draftnet doesn’t have him listed at all. But at least one member of the drafterati – Dean Demakis – in February made a strong case for Portis one day being worth high first round consideration. Especially when compared to SEC Freshman of the Year Julius Randle, an apparently surefire Top 10 pick this year.

They are both skilled 5 star freshman PF’s who play in the SEC.  Their tools are not far apart, as Portis has more length (7’1.5″ vs 6’11″ wingspan), Randle has more strength, and their athleticism and mobility appear to be similar (although perhaps Randle’s spryness would stand out if he trimmed down).  Their offensive ratings adjusted for SOS and usage is close with Randle having a slim 1.8 point advantage.   In a world that interprets draft related information with reasonable efficiency, a Portis vs. Randle debate would be raging right now….

Portis has superior defensive awareness and his length enables him to make more plays.  I believe he clearly projects to be better on this end in spite of inferior rebounding.  Offensively, Randle is a superior offensive rebounder and gets to the line far more, but Portis has a considerably lower turnover rate.  


The Arkansas Activities Association Should Integrate Its Record Book

5a boys

Hall’s Evan James, center, is surrounded by teammates after making a last second basket to beat Jonesboro 32-31 in the 6A boys high school championship. It was the fourth straight title for LR Hall, a feat only accomplished by two other programs – Scipio Jones and LR Central. Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

In the scope of world history, high school sports isn’t all that significant.

You could study a 1,001 more subjects which have more of an effect on our everyday lives. My wife, who works as a pediatrician, deals with more life and death matters in the course of half of a minute than I will in a lifetime of work.

So there may only be a handful of people who care that a large part of Arkansas’ high school history is kept in the dark almost every time a major record is set.

Last year, I discussed this issue in the context of career scoring records set in basketball. The essential issue was that the Arkansas Activities Association only recognizes records that were set by the white student-athletes – but not black student-athletes – who played before integration.

Before the school integration that swept through the state in the late 1960s, there were two state athletic associations – one for whites, the other for blacks. Black students ultimately joined the white students in what had been the white students’ schools, leaving the black schools – typically in worse shape – behind. The same happened with the athletic associations. If the black athletic association kept its own records (it is unclear that such records were ever kept and if they still exist), then they have long been lost.

All that remain, officially, are the records that were kept in by what had been the all-white Arkansas Athletics Association.

This became most evident on Saturday, when Little Rock Hall High won its fourth consecutive state basketball title. This is a very rare Read the rest of this entry »


Exclusive Q&A w/ Bobby Portis, Arkansas’ Best Big Man Since Corliss

Bobby Portis learned the art of rebounding from Corliss Williamson. Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Bobby Portis learned the art of rebounding from Corliss Williamson. Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette


Big man Bobby Portis is new school. He shoots threes, leads fast breaks and has a shoe collection as diverse as his game. Off the court, he rocks the same nerd-chic glasses and bow tie swag Kevin Durant has helped popularize in the NBA.

But when Portis takes his game to Fayetteville next season, it’s the promise of returning Arkansas to old school glory that most excites Hogs fans. Portis, after all, is the state’s best big man since his former coach Corliss Williamson. He’s already followed Williamson’s lead by leading the Arkansas Wings to an AAU national championship. The 6-10 senior center may also be the most dominant player from Little Rock Hall High since Sidney Moncrief, another Razorback All-American.

Portis, we find out, fully embraces the legacy of all his schools – past, present and future:

Q: Let’s get this out of the way first. You’ve been known to wear some crazy, neon-colored shoes on the court. How many do you have and why do you wear them?

A: I have Nike shoes in the neon pink, orange, blue, red and green.
It’s just a different style. I like to wear different types of colored shoes, you know. It’s nothing serious. My mom sees the shoes, so she buys them.

Q: Who is most responsible for helping you develop as a post player?

A: When I was little, it was Corliss Williamson. He taught me a lot. But then he moved on to coach UCA and couldn’t coach us [in AAU] anymore. Then I started working out with Marcus McCarroll. He’s in athletic trainer here in Little Rock, and he’s also a part of the Wings.  He really helped improve my post game.

Read the rest of this entry »


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