FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas guard BJ Young and forward Marshawn Powell saw the sign in the student section urging them to stick around one more year last Saturday.
They heard the chants from the crowd, too, throughout portions of the second half.
The Razorbacks’ leading scorers — and the two players likely to take a long look at leaving the program after the season for professional basketball — were flattered by the affection. But neither wanted to talk about it much Tuesday afternoon.
“Everybody asks me about it,” Powell said. “Am I coming back or not? I’m just not really thinking about it to be honest. If you ask me in a couple weeks, I’ll probably tell you something. But I’m not really thinking about it.
“We’ve got to get a win. I’m still trying to do something I haven’t done here ever.”
Powell and Young insist the future is on hold as they prepare for Arkansas’ opening game in the 2013 Southeastern Conference Tournament against Vanderbilt (14-16, 8-10 in SEC) in Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on Thursday night. The duo instead will try to lead the Razorbacks (19-12, 10-8) to their first win in the SEC Tournament since 2008. And it’s one that could go a long way toward helping the Hogs secure their first postseason tournament berth in five years.
There’s no doubt both players will be key in helping Arkansas accomplish that goal beginning Thursday. Young and Powell were both named second-team All-SEC by the conference coaches Tuesday after finishing in the top 10 in the league in scoring.
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said the recognition says a lot about what they’ve accomplished this season. But he’s confident they can do more in the postseason.
“I’m happy for those guys,” Anderson said. “But I don’t think those guys are finished. They’re impact players. They will be an impact, hopefully, in this tournament. We need them to play well as we’ve got other guys starting to play well.”
Both players will have that opportunity after coming off peculiar outings in the regular season final against Texas A&M. Neither started because of what Anderson described as disciplinary reasons, although he didn’t go into specifics.
Young, who scored 27 points in his homecoming game at Missouri, played a career-low 11 minutes and managed a career-low tying two points against the Aggies.
Powell finished with 10 points in 24 minutes. But the team captain wasn’t in Arkansas’ starting lineup for the first time in Anderson’s tenure with the team.
Young was asked about the benching Tuesday and said it was “nothing major” and planned to be “100 percent ready to go” in the SEC Tournament this week. Powell shook it off, too, saying “everything is good” with the coaching staff.
Anderson confirmed the same during Tuesday’s press conference.
“What happened then, that’s history,” Anderson said. “We’ll go through practice and hopefully they do the things they’re supposed to do. It’s a big game for us. We want to make sure guys are doing what they’re supposed to do both on and off the floor.”
Arkansas can be tough to beat when both Young and Powell are performing.
Young tested the NBA Draft waters last season and was regarded as a 2013 lottery pick entering the year. He wanted to improve his all-around game, ranks sixth in the SEC in scoring (15.1 points) and has seen gains in plenty of statistical categories.
But Young’s shooting woes have caused some concern about his draft stock. It’s not coming from Young, who wanted to thank “all the fans of Arkansas for supporting me” when asked about the sign in the crowd urging him to return last Saturday. He made it clear there are more pressing things on his mind with the Hogs.
“I haven’t even thought that far yet,” Young said about his pro basketball future. “I’m just trying to get these wins that are the most important wins of the season right now. I know if we can do that it’s going to look good for everybody.”
Powell, meanwhile, has been healthy all season after last year’s season ending knee injury. His importance has been obvious in Arkansas’ wins and losses.
He has ranks ninth in the SEC in scoring (14.5 points) and is fourth in field goal percentage (49.3 percent), helping steer the Razorbacks to big wins in Bud Walton Arena. But his off nights – which typically include early foul trouble on the road – have been problematic for a team that is just 1-11 outside of the state.
“I still don’t think you’ve seen the best of him,” Anderson said. “But it just speaks to him in terms of how he’s been dedicated to getting back and being important, being an impact player on this basketball team. I’ve been highly impressed with that.”
There were reports Powell told fans in the student section last Saturday he was not returning to Arkansas next season. It was a different message from a Twitter post a little later, when Powell said as of now he was playing for the Hogs next season.
Powell tried to clarify Tuesday. He said there’s still a lot of basketball left to play this season and doesn’t want his future to cloud “what is still at hand.”
“I really, really want it, man, to be honest,” Powell said about trying to snap Arkansas’ four-game losing streak in the SEC Tournament. “I’m going to sit out there and try to fight as hard as I can and pull my team to get a win.”
SEC TOURNAMENT TICKET
No. 10 Vanderbilt (14-16, 8-10 in SEC) vs. No. 7 Arkansas (19-12, 10-8 in SEC)
When: Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.
TV: SEC Network
Radio: Razorback Sports Network
Series: Arkansas leads 18-10
Last Meeting: Vanderbilt 67, Arkansas 49 on 2/9/13
Coaches: Arkansas — Mike Anderson (38-25 in second season); Vanderbilt — Kevin Stallings (275-175 in 14th season)
Projected Lineups: Arkansas — F Coty Clarke (6-7, Jr., 6.9 ppg), F Marshawn Powell (6-7, Jr. 15.1 ppg), F Michael Qualls (6-5, Fr., 4.0 ppg), G BJ Young (6-3, Jr., 5.0 ppg), G Mardracus Wade (6-2, Jr., 6.4 ppg); Vanderbilt — C Josh Henderson (6-11, So., 5.6 ppg), F Rod Odom (6-9, Jr., 10.2 ppg), G Kedren Johnson (6-4, So., 13.6 ppg), G Kevin Bright (6-5, Fr., 6.7 ppg), G Dai-Jon Parker (6-3, So., 6.7 ppg)