Matt Jones has been the online sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette since 2010. He is also a feature writer for Hawgs Illustrated magazine and is currently pursuing a Master's degree in documentary film.
Razorback Basketball Notebook:
Anderson looking toward practice facility
University of Arkansas head basketball coach Mike Anderson during an interview in his office at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville on Monday August 26, 2013.
FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas' basketball program isn't being left in the sawdust of a construction boom on campus.
Razorbacks coach Mike Anderson said he expects ground will be broken soon on a basketball practice facility, though the exact date hasn't been announced. The proposed $20 million to $25 million facility will be located across the street from Bud Walton Arena near the university's softball stadium and is one of three projects listed in Phase II of an athletics master plan for facilities unveiled two years ago.
"I'm excited about it as we kind of get ready to stick the shovel in the dirt and get started on it," Anderson said. "It's something that is long overdue, but at the same time, timing is everything.
"I think it's much needed here. You look at all the schools around the country, the type of players now want to have access to facilities where they can develop. We've got to have facilities that match our competitors."
A football operations center, outdoor football practice fields and a soccer locker room have already been built as part of the master plan. The university began construction earlier this month on a dual-sport practice facility for baseball and track scheduled to be completed next summer.
The baseball/track facility is also listed in Phase II, along with a building that will house a dining hall and academic center for athletes. The university's board of trustees approved $36.5 million in bonds earlier this year to help pay for all three projects, which have a combined estimated cost of between $45 million and $58 million.
With a drawing of the proposed 85,000 square foot basketball facility sitting on an easel next to his desk, Anderson said he is confident construction will begin in a timely manner.
"When I came in, Jeff Long looked at me in my face and said this is one of the things we're going to get done," Anderson said. "For me to start seeing it take place - playing in the SEC you've got to have top-notch facilities. We feel we're going to be one of the best programs in the country. That said, we feel we've got to have the facility. We think we've got a good coaching staff here, so now we want to attract top talent. I think it all works kind of hand-in-hand."
Jeff Long, the university's athletics director, has remained adamant a practice facility needs to be built for the program. Earlier this year he said the Razorbacks had lost a recruit because they were the only program in the SEC without one.
"We need it now," Long said in May. "We needed it five years ago. I hope to have them in the next year and a half."
Anderson said he and his staff toured the $35 million football center earlier this summer. The football program received eight verbal commitments the weekend it was opened and Anderson is hopeful a facility for basketball can have the same kind of recruiting ramifications.
"It's phenomenal," Anderson said. "The thing you want when you first walk into those facilities is to go, 'Wow!' From a recruiting standpoint it's something we're looking toward. Football is having a blast with it and it's helping them in recruiting."
Schedule nearly finished
Arkansas' full nonconference schedule is nearing completion and could be released as early as this week, said program spokesperson Patrick Pierson.
The Razorbacks have six confirmed nonconference dates or opponents in the coming season. Arkansas has home games scheduled against Clemson, Louisiana-Lafayette and High Point, and three games at the Maui Invitational beginning with California.
The game against Clemson will be the first against an ACC team in Fayetteville in more than a decade. The Tigers join Michigan, Oklahoma and Syracuse as major conference foes to come to Arkansas during the nonconference season during Anderson's tenure.
"Our fans deserve (major conference opponents)," Anderson said. "Bud Walton Arena is an electric atmosphere. TV likes it and TV dictates a lot of those games. There were always great games when I was here before.
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Check back Tuesday for Anderson's thoughts on incoming freshmen and Arkansas' recent wins on the recruiting trail.
"I don't mind playing people. I don't mind playing anybody home-and-home. I think our fans deserve it and I think our guys look forward to playing against good basketball teams."
SMU, a former Southwest Conference foe of the Razorbacks, is also expected to make a trip to Arkansas in the coming season, though that game has yet to be officially announced.
Arkansas won't play Oklahoma this year after meeting each of the last six seasons. The teams have two years remaining on a 4-year agreement renewed prior to the 2011-12 season.
"We needed a break and Oklahoma needed a break," Anderson said. "I think it's something that will probably pick up again in the future."
The Southeastern Conference released its full schedule last week. Notable home games include Florida, Kentucky and Missouri. The Razorbacks will open and close the SEC season on the road.
"Kentucky went out and added one of the top recruiting classes of maybe all-time," Anderson said. "Florida is going to be good and LSU is going to be good. Two of those three teams (Kentucky and LSU) we'll play home-and-home.
"I think it's a tremendous schedule."
Home sweet home
Anderson said he and his wife opted not to take a trip this summer while finishing up a new house.
The home is the second Anderson has built in Fayetteville, having also built one while an assistant at the school from 1985-2002. He said he didn't build houses in either of his head coaching stops at Alabama-Birmingham or Missouri.
"It's a nice place for me and my wife," Anderson said. "It'll be kind of an entertainment place for my kids and grandkids, and the team.
"We've built one before, but never to this magnitude."