Ethan Westerman is a reporter for the Hawgs Sports Network. He has bachelor's degrees in journalism and marketing from the University of Arkansas.
Neighbors pleased with team's retention as practices start
Arkansas guard Makayla Daniels (43) passes the ball, Friday, Aug. 4, 2023, during the Razorbacks’ open practice at the Martin Family Basketball Performance Center in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — There was no need for Mike Neighbors to stop and explain how to do drills Monday when the Arkansas women’s basketball team began its first week of preseason practices.
That is because his team had 10 days of practices from July 25-Aug. 4, played three games during an exhibition trip to Croatia and Greece, returns most of its minutes played from a season ago and has veterans who help coach on the court.
Instead of being in implementation mode, the Razorbacks are in critique-and-improve mode.
“We basically started like it was Day 11, not Day 1,” junior guard Samara Spencer said. “For us, it was more so about perfecting and fine tuning the stuff that we had gone over before we went to Europe.”
Neighbors agreed it did not seem like a first practice.
“Yesterday felt like you were reviewing for a final exam or something,” he said Tuesday.“‘Hey, remember what we did?’ Five minutes, boom. I had 15 minutes on the practice schedule, and after five minutes I look around like, ‘They’ve got it.’
“That right there made up 10 minutes of a practice schedule that going in I thought I was being generous. Then the next drill, same thing. ‘Hey, let's review our defense,’ and we didn't have to have very many reps. If that can continue then you can start focusing on extra shooting and practice, really monitoring their legs…. If you don't have to waste time in practice every day reviewing something from the day before, you can build and you can focus on special situations and little things.”
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It helps the Razorbacks’ seventh-year coach to look up and have veteran guard Makayla Daniels helping guide practices along.
“I've had four first practices already,” Daniels said. “But yesterday, the first practice, that was one of the best ones we've ever had. There was like no miscommunications, everyone was giving max effort and I'm pretty sure everyone was hurting after yesterday. It was very competitive. The new people caught on very quickly, so it wasn't a lot of stopping and talking and our coaches having to explain.
“It kind of just flowed the whole practice. I would say it was one of the best first practices I've ever experienced.”
There has been a newfound appreciation of the sport for Daniels entering this season. She has started all 122 games of her career, and for the first time is beginning practices with no other players who were on the team during her freshman year in 2019-20.
Daniels has had 31 different teammates throughout her Arkansas career.
“At first I definitely felt a little alone just because it's a lot easier when you have somebody that can understand and relate to all the things you've gone through,” Daniels said. “But now I've become comfortable with it. I get to leave my mark on this team, and this is the last team I'll play with.
“The other years are kind of a blur, but this one is going to be the team that I'll always remember.”
This year, Daniels and Spencer have the task of helping guide freshman guard Taliah Scott, a 5-star recruit from Orange Park, Fla. Between the two veterans are a combined 186 starts, 2,373 points and 564 assists.
“She won't realize how valuable it is until probably two or three years from now,” Neighbors said of Scott. “We see it on a daily basis right now, that they can give her not only words, but they can go out and show her. It doesn't do me or Coach Todd [Schaefer] any good to tell her anything, because if Mak and Sam say it to her, she's going to believe them. And she should, because they're the ones that have done it in this league at a very high level.
“I think Taliah appreciates it right now, but I don't think she will fully grasp it until they're both gone.”
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