Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
Anderson knows when to dip into reserves
Arkansas guard Anthlon Bell (5) looks to pass out of a trap as Kentucky guard Julius Mays during the second half of play Saturday, March 2, 2013, in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - Shawn Davis, Ken Biley, Elmer Martin, Roosevelt Wallace, Davor Rimac, Ray Biggers and Reggie Garrett share at least two experiences from their Razorbacks past.
As reserves whose sitting minutes outnumbered their playing minutes, none are remembered as Razorback greats. Yet all contributed and occasionally even started for some of Arkansas’ greatest teams.
All of those guys variously stepped up from the shadows for shining moments during Nolan Richardson’s Razorbacks run (1990-95) that boasted three Final Fours, with a national championship and national runner-up, one Elite Eight appearance and one Sweet Sixteen appearance.
Thoughts of Davis, Biley, Martin, etc. occurred last week listening to talk radio while Anthlon Bell’s lack of playing time was disparagingly discussed. Bell had totaled zero points in 11 minutes over his past three games.
Then, last Saturday at Mississippi State, Bell bounded off the bench to lead Arkansas to a 73-69 victory by scoring a team-leading and career-high 19 points.
Just like Michigan Coach John Beilein admitting last season that Kikko Haydar wasn’t in the scouting report when the Razorbacks’ walk-on guard and current co-captain scored 13 points, Mississippi State Coach Rick Ray admitted Saturday that Bell wasn’t in his scouting report.
Consider this a lesson learned. Whether coaching from the opposing bench or calling a talk show, never discount anyone on a Mike Anderson roster abruptly emerging from bit player to playing quite a bit.
That’s how Nolan Richardson operated while Anderson assisted him during those 17 Arkansas seasons and the two seasons Anderson played for Richardson at Tulsa.
That’s how Anderson operated as a head coach at Alabama-Birmingham and Missouri, and that is how Anderson has operated at Arkansas now deep into his third season.
Like his mentor, Anderson always peels an eye in practice on the reserve who isn’t playing much but is displaying a renewed attitude and aptitude that merits another look at playing more. Matching a sitting substitute’s hunger and skill set to a specific situation has turned a bench bookend into a pivotal producer for Anderson and Richardson.
“Anthlon Bell, a guy who has been sitting there, sitting there,” Anderson said. “He has been shooting the ball so well in practice, I said maybe it was his time.”
Look at senior guard Mardracus Wade, an everyday player playing in every one of Arkansas’ 93 games from his freshman season through his junior year.
This season Wade has logged only two starts and has been benched entirely for three games. Yet for recent games when times got turbulent, it was Wade steadying the Arkansas ship with a key stop or a key bucket.
“Mardracus Wade, I tell you what, his impact on the game has been big,” Anderson said. “Defensively and offensively as well. He’s playing to his strengths and the surrounding cast that goes with him. It’s kind of like you find your niche.”
Of course, that niche is more likely to be found if the coach never ceases his quest to find it.
Sports, Pages 16 on 02/26/2014