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.
Portis progressing, not there yet
Bobby Portis runs down a loose ball during the Class 6A state championship game on March 9, 2013 at Barton Coliseum in Little Rock.
FAYETTEVILLE Mike Anderson would caution those expecting one player to lead Arkansas' basketball program back to prominence.
Anderson understands there are expectations abound for freshman Bobby Portis, a McDonalds All-American rated as one of the nation's best post players. The third-year Arkansas coach admits he has several expectations of his own, but understands the Razorbacks' most heralded in-state signee since Corliss Williamson is part of a bigger picture, a key piece to a recruiting puzzle for Anderson's fast-paced brand of basketball.
"I don't think Bobby is going to be the savior," Anderson said. "I think Bobby is going to come in here and get a chance to grow as a player like any other guy.
"It's not going to just be Bobby. It's going to be we as a team. We Hogs - that's what we call ourselves."
Alongside 6-foot-10 freshman center Moses Kingsley, Portis helps form one of the game's top young front courts, adding the size and hopefully defense inside the paint the Razorbacks lacked last season. Arkansas had a minus-2.5 rebounding margin last year and gave up the second-most rebounds of any team in the Southeastern Conference.
To make matters worse, the Razorbacks lost a pair of big men in the offseason. Leading rebounder Marshawn Powell opted out of his final season of eligibility to play professional basketball and Hunter Mickelson transferred to Kansas, but Anderson said this year's newcomers should soften the blow.
"What we're doing now is getting more guys that fit what we want to do," Anderson said. "We want to play uptempo basketball, but at the same time we want defense to be what we hang our hats on. Those guys give us a presence of guys who can score inside and play defense.
"We've not only got size, but size that can play. These are guys who are very versatile and can do a lot of different things. Defense is something we always talk about. Now we have some guys that we can protect the rim - Moses, Bobby, even a guy like Alandise Harris."
Portis (6-foot-9, 230 pounds) was a dominant figure in the talent-rich Little Rock basketball circuit the past three years, leading Hall High School to state championship wins each season. As a senior, Portis averaged 20.4 points, 12.4 rebounds and 4.5 blocks per game.
Prior to enrolling in summer school at Arkansas in June, Portis worked out with Arkansas Wings assistant and skills coach Marcus McCarroll. After receiving a workout plan from UA strength and conditioning coach David Deets, he added eight pounds to his frame.
“I know it’s changing my game,” Portis said in May. “I’m jumping higher. I had internal confidence before but now my confidence has really increased. I see my arms getting a little bigger.”
That has continued since his move to Fayetteville with Anderson lauding his work ethic in summer conditioning and instructional sessions.
"I'm sure Bobby has a lot of pride about himself, his game and what he brings to the table," Anderson said. "He's going to try to be the best player he can be. I think he proved that last year in high school, so now he's coming to this level with the same mindset, to be one of the best college players he can be."
To the delight of Arkansas fans and coaches, Portis turned down an open invitation from a who's who list of schools to play for the home state Razorbacks. It was a change of course from previous high-profile recruits in Arkansas who opted to play elsewhere.
“I grew up watching the Razorbacks when they had Ronnie Brewer and Sonny Weems,” Portis said in May. “I was like, ‘Wow, I like the way they play.’
"It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
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Check back later this week for Anderson's thoughts on Alandise Harris, who is eligible after sitting out last season.
The buzz around him only grew when he became the first Arkansas signee to play in the McDonald's All-American game in nearly a decade. In that game, Portis scored 12 points and blocked two shots.
Anderson said Portis is capable of having the same type of impact when he steps up in competition, but knows it could be a process.
"Our coaches got a chance to see some of the things they bring to the table and their potential this summer," Anderson said. "Bobby has come very heralded, but that's high school. The collegiate level is different. This summer was very good for those guys in how hard they had to work. That's what I was most impressed with, the way they go after it. I like guys with motors. To see the way they attacked the weight room and the floor, I thought it was productive.
"With that being said, there is a learning a curve and he'll be thrown into the fire awfully quick. Then you'll see the maturation of Bobby."