Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
Portis, Qualls hone skills vs. elite peers
Arkansas freshman Bobby Portis celebrates during the closing moments of the second half of play against Alabama Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- Bobby Portis became a big man on Arkansas' campus as a freshman last year when the former Little Rock Hall standout was voted to the All-SEC second-team basketball and averaged 12.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocked shots to help the Razorbacks to a 20-12 record and NIT bid.
This summer Portis is getting even bigger.
"He's almost 6-11 now," Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said Monday during an SEC basketball coaches' teleconference. "I think the guy is still growing.
"So now it's just a matter of him getting his body strengthened and getting better from a skill standpoint. That's something he's doing each and every day."
Portis, listed at 6-9 when he signed with Arkansas in November 2012 and at 6-10 last season, measured 6-10 1/2 at the Nike Elite Youth Basketball Big Man Skills Academy held June 23-25 in Union, N.J.
"I think Bobby Portis is a tremendous player," Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy said. " He brings size, athleticism and length and a skill level to that slot, which makes him a very, very difficult matchup."
Portis saw familiar faces at the Big Man camp, including LSU forwards Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin, who like Portis decided to return to college for their sophomore seasons rather than enter the NBA Draft. Kansas' Perry Ellis and Cliff Alexander, as well as Iowa State's Georges Niang, whom Portis will play when the Razorbacks face the Cyclones in the SEC-Big East Challenge, also camped in New Jersey.
Former Kentucky centers Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans) and DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings) were among the NBA players who served as camp counselors.
"It was pretty positive in Bobby's mind," Anderson said. "He was pitted against some of the same guys at his position, so it gave him a barometer of where he is and some of the things he's got to work on."
Portis was one of two Arkansas players to go elite camping in June. Michael Qualls, a 6-6 junior, last week attended the Kevin Durant Skills Academy in Washington, D.C. for wing players. Durant, the former Texas star who earned NBA MVP honors this season playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder, is a camp leader.
Anderson said it was the first time he could recall two players from one of his teams going to an elite camp in the same summer.
"I think it's a tremendous experience for these guys," Anderson said. "Hopefully, it gives them the mind-set to come back and really go to work."
Qualls averaged 11.6 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists last season and had several highlight dunks, most notably a putback with 0.2 seconds left in overtime that lifted Arkansas to an 87-85 victory over Kentucky. He hit a three-pointer with 2.6 seconds left at Vanderbilt for the game-winning basket in the Razorbacks' 77-75 victory.
"Michael Qualls is obviously a world-class athlete and a guy that has gotten better as he's gotten more experience in Mike's system," Kennedy said.
Qualls averaged 13.7 points and shot 53 percent from the field in nonconference games, but cooled off when SEC play began, making 11 of 56 (19.6 percent), before rallying in the latter part of the season.
"He was a guy that went through a drought," Anderson said. "We all know about his athletic ability, but now we want to see other parts of his game -- defending rebounding.
"The key now is just being consistent."
Anderson stressed last season that Portis didn't have to be a savior for the Razorbacks, but he became the team's best all-around player.
"He's going to be a marked guy this year." Anderson said. "People know who Bobby Portis is."
Anderson said he's not sure if Portis will grow to be 7 feet.
"We just take it one day at a time," Anderson said. "But looking at what he's done to this point, if he can continue to build on what has taken place, then I think we're looking at a guy that the bar is as high as he wants it to be.
"The sky is the limit with him."
Sports on 07/01/2014