Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
UA’s youngsters growing into roles
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson shows frustration during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Mississipppi, Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, in Oxford, Miss. Mississippi won 76-64. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
FAYETTEVILLE Mike Anderson saw the greatness of old and flashes of greatness from the new last August in Italy.
The Colosseum, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica were among the ancient structures that Anderson and his Arkansas Razorbacks experienced during their Italian exhibition basketball tour.
Among the new, the coach saw freshman forwards Michael Qualls and Jacorey Williams building their budding Razorbacks careers, although the ensuing season’s graph of their progression has fluctuated more wildly than steadily bloomed.
Judging from their performances in Arkansas’ past two victories over Tennessee and second-ranked Florida, they seem to be progressing pretty blooming well, just like Anderson knew they would.
“Coming in they did some good things over in Italy,” Anderson said. “I thought they’d be showcasing that a little earlier [in the season] than what they had done.”
Deep down, Anderson knew better. Freshmen pay learning curve dues. These two freshmen, though exceptionally athletic, are no different.
“The thing about young guys is, I think you try to let them come along at their own pace,” Anderson said. “So when they get the opportunity, hopefully they may want it more.”
Anderson played his up-and down rookies increasingly in some games and sparingly in others.
“Basically, Coach was just preaching all year to just hold on and stay with them and just keep working and our time will come eventually,” said Qualls, who had nine points and six rebounds in a 59-56 loss at Alabama. “I think now, me and Jacorey, we are needed. So that’s why I think our playing time is improving.”
A 6-8 athletic forward like Williams and a 6-5 bounder like Qualls - whose long arms allow him to play more like a 6-11 guy, Anderson said - are always needed once they learn how to fulfill team needs.
Qualls had 11 rebounds, 7 points and 2 steals against Tennessee and 11 points and 4 rebounds against Florida in his first 2 starts. Williams played a big role off the bench against Tennessee and an even bigger role against Florida.
More important, both have discovered that Anderson’s frantically paced game isn’t based on playing frantically.
“At first I was in a rush to do all types of stuff.” Williams said. “Even on defense, I was in a rush. I have kind of slowed it down and let the game come to me a little bit.”
Anderson’s game is defense first, Williams and Qualls said, although Qualls has learned that rookies shouldn’t always defer offensively.
“I’m having the confidence to take the shot I know I could take,” Qualls said. “Early on in the year I probably wouldn’t take the same shots because I was afraid to mess up, but now Coach tells me, ‘Don’t worry about messing up. Just go out and go play.’ ”
Lately, both have played exceptionally.
“What they bring to the table makes us a different basketball team,” Anderson said. “You are talking about some guys that can make super-athletic plays. From a defensive standpoint, they’re all over the place.
“They recognize where they fit in and how they fit in.”
Sports, Pages 20 on 02/09/2013