Scottie Bordelon is a reporter for WholeHogSports.com. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, Bordelon previously covered high school sports for the Times Record in Fort Smith and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Springdale. He is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and Football Writers Association of America, and was awarded 2022 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Egoless Black humble and tough in the spotlight
Arkansas guard Anthony Black (0) dunks, Thursday, March 16, 2023 during the first half of the NCAA Division I Basketball Championship First Round game at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa. Visit nwaonline.com/photos for the photo gallery.
DES MOINES, Iowa — Seated in a chair in front of his locker at Wells Fargo Arena, Anthony Black leaned forward, placed his head between his knees and simultaneously covered his ears.
Black did so in response to a reporter’s question to Kamani Johnson, who was stationed immediately to his left, about the freshman guard’s season as a whole. Seconds later, Black returned upright with a grin on his face.
The moment is a snapshot of Black’s personality. Though perhaps not the biggest fan of all the attention he receives, Black handles the spotlight well and with grace and personality.
He is unique far beyond his positional size at 6-7. Black is also considered one of Arkansas’ toughest players, a guard capable of stuffing the stat sheet as he fights through injury and irritates opponents.
“AB comes across like he’s this very quiet guy,” Arkansas assistant coach Keith Smart said Friday. “But he says things really softly and gets under people's skin sometimes. I noticed that when I was out recruiting him and watching him.
“The way he talks to the referees, he’ll say little things to them real nice and soft and quietly. That’s a side that he has. Plus, he’s a trickster, too.”
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Black’s competitive spirit has been a key component to his success at Arkansas. He will enter Saturday’s second-round NCAA Tournament game against top-seeded Kansas averaging 12.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2 steals per game.
He has long played with a chip on his shoulder. Black recalls as a kid seeing the edge with which the late Kobe Bryant played and wanting to emulate it in his own games.
“There’s no room to be (nice) on the court,” Black said. “I’m a competitor. Once the game is over you can go back to being that. But on the court you’ve got to be a dog and try to give your team an edge to win.”
Arkansas assistant coach Gus Argenal labels Black as egoless, a star player willing to accept coaching and advice on any and every aspect of his game. If it will better the projected lottery pick’s play, he is all ears.
Black’s maturity as a freshman stands out to Argenal as well, from his on-court demeanor and poise, to understanding the importance of rest and managing his body.
“He’s very tough,” Argenal said. “Sometimes he is cool, calm and collected, but inside that cool and calm is a pretty tough, mean, gritty player. He probably has a game within the game even more than we know he’s having.
“That’s probably what makes him good, is that he’s a really competitive kid.”
Throughout the season Black has battled various injuries and even played while under the weather. But he leads the Razorbacks in minutes per game at 34.7.
According to KenPom data, Black has played 85.1% of Arkansas’ minutes this season. In SEC play, that figure was 86.2%.
“He's been pretty banged up for about the last month,” Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said Friday. “I think the biggest thing I've been impressed with is his availability. I mean, he practices every day. He went through a couple weeks ago with an ankle sprain that was really bothering him.
“He obviously absorbs a ton of contact and he just keeps picking himself up off the floor and going and competing.”
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Black has had a wide-ranging impact for Arkansas in 2022-23. He is currently eighth in program history among freshmen in points scored (436), second in free throws made (123), seventh in total rebounds (174), third in assists (138) and first in steals (68).
And he needs 25 minutes Saturday to pass Patrick Beverley (1,203) for No. 1 in minutes played by an Arkansas freshman.
“That’s my guy. I’m super proud of him,” Johnson said. “Any bad game he has, he’s super hard on himself even if no one else thinks he’s had a bad game. He holds himself to a super-high standard. I think he’s done some special things here.
“But at the next step he’s going to be great.”
Johnson is right. Black does not take losses well. He feels largely responsible when Arkansas comes up short because he is the team’s floor general and one of its leaders.
If Black does not play well in a win, he will put on a smile and enjoy the outcome with teammates. But internally he is chomping at the bit to bounce back.
“In my perfect world,” Black said, “every game is supposed to be a good game.”
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