Pelphrey return drawing notice

By: Bob Holt
Published: Saturday, February 18, 2012
 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/WILLIAM MOORE
Arkansas' head coach John Pelphrey thinks things over during a game against Tennessee Thursday, March 10, 2011 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, GA.
Photo by William Moore
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/WILLIAM MOORE Arkansas' head coach John Pelphrey thinks things over during a game against Tennessee Thursday, March 10, 2011 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, GA.

— When the SEC men’s basketball schedule was announced last summer, today’s Arkansas-Florida game stood out to the Razorbacks.

It marks the return of John Pelphrey, Arkansas’ coach the previous four seasons, to Walton Arena as an assistant with the Gators.

“It’s going to be crazy,” Razorbacks sophomore guard Mardracus Wade said. “I know this place is going to get rocking.

“I circled this game when we first got the [schedule]. ... He’s going to want to come in here and get a win, but at the same time, we’re going to try to go at him, too.

“This is our house and we want to defend it.”

The Razorbacks have defended Walton Arena well this season, building a 17-0 record on their home court with the help of a freshman class signed by Pelphrey last November — guards BJ Young and Ky Madden and forwards Hunter Mickelson and Devonta Abron. The freshmen are averaging a combined 32.6 points and 16.2 rebounds per game.

“That was a great recruitment process, and they showed me a lot of love,” said Young, from St. Louis McCluer North. “They made me and my family feel comfortable to where we wanted to come to Arkansas.

“We felt love, and I thank Coach Pelphrey for all that. I wish everybody on that staff that helped recruit me the best of luck.”

Young said Arkansas fans should appreciate Pelphrey “because he recruited a great class, a great group of guys that play well together.”

Mickelson, from Jonesboro Westside, said he became close with Pelphrey and that “it might be a little weird” playing today with Pelphrey on the opposing bench.

“But they’re coming in here to do something and we’re coming in here to send them out packing,” Mickelson said. “We’ll probably say, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ and all that. But after that, it’s just going to be business.”

Not every Razorback appears to share Mickelson’s opinion. Senior forward Marvell Waithe, who is averaging 19.8 minutes in SEC games and has started the past two after averaging 6.8 minutes in nine conference games last season, offered several “no comments” when asked about Pelphrey.

Pelphrey, who declined interview requests about today’s game, had a 69-59 record at Arkansas, including 18-13 last season. His first Arkansas team beat Indiana in the NCAA Tournament in 2008, but the Razorbacks didn’t reach the postseason his last three years.

A day after his firing, Pelphrey had a news conference March 14 and said he’ll always be a Razorback. He advised the signees to stick with their commitment to Arkansas, and he urged fans to buy tickets and “show up” to games.

The Razorbacks’ average announced actual attendance at Walton Arena last season was 8,568 — more than 10,000 below the 19,200 capacity.

Today’s game is a sellout and Arkansas’ home attendance is up to an announced average of 10,277 in Mike Anderson’s first season as coach — including 14,433 in the past six games.

“I think our fans are excited about our basketball team,” said Anderson, an Arkansas assistant for 17 seasons in 1985-2002. “Obviously we’re disappointed in the performance at Tennessee [in a 77-58 loss Wednesday night], but our guys have really gave our fans something to cheer about, especially when they play at home.

“They’re fighting. They’re playing with great effort. They’re playing together. Our fans are a big part of that.”

Florida Coach Billy Donovan said he’s sure today’s game will be emotional for Pelphrey.

“I know he loves Arkansas,” Donovan said. “He loved the people there. He loved the school. He loved everything about it.

“I think any time there’s a change like that, that’s always difficult.

“He, as I said last year, was moving in the right direction with his program. He’s obviously recruited a very, very good class.”

Anderson convinced the freshmen to stay with Arkansas after he was hired from Missouri, where he left a team that returned five starters and is 24-2 and ranked No. 3 nationally this season.

“It was totally re-recruiting, and selling Arkansas and what was going to take place,” Anderson said. “That’s probably even more difficult than recruiting, because these guys were set to come here, and now the people that were responsible for that are no longer here.

“The key is to make those guys feel comfortable in what kind of roles they’re going to play, and what we’re doing, and their families as well, and we were able to do that.”

Anderson said he hasn’t spoken to Pelphrey since taking the Arkansas job, but he said the two have a professional relationship with mutual respect.

But Anderson has a sense of how Pelphrey will feel returning to Walton Arena.

“I can’t speak for John, but I’m sure it will be emotional,” Anderson said. “But I’m sure the coaching part of you is saying, ‘Hey, the most focus is on the game itself.’

“As a coach, for two hours it’s a basketball game.”

Arkansas men vs. No. 14 Florida

WHEN 5 p.m. Central today WHERE Walton Arena, Fayetteville RECORDS Arkansas 17-9, 5-6 SEC; Florida 20-6, 8-3 SERIES Florida leads 13-11 TELEVISION ESPN2 RADIO Razorback Sports Network TICKETS Sold out

PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS

FLORIDA POS. NAME, HT., YR. PPG RPG G Kenny Boynton, 6-2, So. 17.2 2.3 G Bradley Beal, 6-3, Fr. 14.3 6.2 G Erving Walker, 5-8, Sr. 11.7 2.8 F Patric Young, 6-9, So. 11.0 6.3 F Erik Murphy, 6-10, Jr. 10.3 4.1 COACH Billy Donovan (415-172 overall)

ARKANSAS POS. NAME, HT., YR. PPG RPG G BJ Young, 6-3, Fr. 14.5 3.0 G Julysses Nobles, 6-1, Jr. 8.9 3.7 G Mardracus Wade, 6-3, So. 10.5 2.1 F Marvell Waithe, 6-9, Sr. 5.5 3.2 F Devonta Abron, 6-8, Fr. 5.7 4.4 COACH Mike Anderson (217-107 overall) CHALK TALK Florida is averaging 10.1 made three-point baskets per game to lead the nation, so the Razorbacks’ perimeter defense had better be more active after Tennessee hit 11 of 23 three-pointers on Wednesday night.

— Bob Holt

Sports, Pages 23 on 02/18/2012

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