By Kevin McPherson
LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Razorbacks returned to the practice floor at the basketball performance center in Fayetteville on Monday, Aug. 23, after a three-week break that followed their 8-week limited summer practice sessions.
Once again, the Hogs are tasked with meshing a lot of new faces with a host of returnees, a process that worked well last season for a team that finished second in the SEC and ranked in the Top 10 nationally topped off by a run all the way to the NCAA tournament Elite Eight which was a first for the program in 26 years.
Here are some tidbits and takeaways from last week’s practices and other aspects from Arkansas men’s basketball …
* The first week back was not so much about installing new things, it was about “reviewing a lot since guys had three weeks off.” That makes sense given all the new faces and all that Head Hog Eric Musselman packs into teaching how to play on both sides of the ball. As a reminder, in their summer limited practices the Hogs worked on pick-and-roll defenses, press breaks, and spacing and shot selection — among other things — so fine-tuning and refreshing memories was a wise way to return to the court after a lengthy layoff.
* The Hogs ended summer practice sessions with an ice cream party, and on Monday, Aug. 23, they concluded their first practice back with a pizza delivery as Musselman explained what it meant for him to have the opportunity to coach his team again (video linked: https://twitter.com/EricPMusselman/status/1429930287429873665?s=20). “We love having you guys back, I’ve been in a state of depression not being able to coach you guys,” Musselman playfully told the team at the end of practice. “I’ve been depressed. I didn’t know what to do with myself without you guys. So with that, pizza delivery!”
* With the exception of one player, the Hogs have “passed mile time” goals. Each Hog runs the mile until reaching a pre-established time target specific to that individual player. Musselman took to the Twitter-sphere on Monday to brag on covid-freshman guard KK Robinson completing his mile run in record fashion: “First time running the mile this morning KK Robinson set the summer record for our team (5:12)!”
* It’s been well-documented that Musselman uses lots of props to help get his points across, and on Wednesday he released images of three new poster themes that convey visual reminders of expectations and core tenets in his program: 1) T.N.T. to remind players that it “takes no talent” to “get on the floor for loose balls, take a charge, selfless act”; 2) S.O.G. to remind players the team “would rather have a shot on goal than a turnover”; and 3) D.B.O is a “don’t beat ourselves” theme to remind players to “eliminate physical and mental mistakes.”
* It’s typical for Arkansas to have former players and other dignitaries in to view practices over the course of any given week, and last week they welcomed home former star guard Jalen Tate as well as NBA star Mike Conley, Jr., and his Dad who is a Hogs track and field legend and Olympic gold medalist, Mike Conley, Sr. Off the practice floor in a voluntary workout scenario, KK Robinson got on the court with former Hog star Isaiah Joe and Conley, Jr., and once again Robinson earned rave reviews, this time for his performance on the court with a couple of NBA players.
* If the Hogs’ height chart is scientifically accurate, it would appear as though covid-sophomore Connor Vanover is pushing 7-feet, 6-inches in shoes (see image below). It’s also notable that Musselman stands “bicepts-high” next to Vanover.
* Just like it was for the 8 weeks of summer practices, the NCAA’s allotted on-court practice time will continue to be 4 hours per week but will double to 8 hours in mid-September.