FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said his team’s trip to Italy was valuable on so many levels.
It was a bonding experience for a team that has several newcomers on the roster. It was a cultural and historical experience, too, with most of them traveling overseas for the first time. And then, on the court, Anderson believes it was an eye-opening experience for a team that didn’t have much depth throughout 2010-11.
“Guys can’t take nights off now,” Anderson said. “If you take nights off, somebody else is ready to get on that floor.”
Anderson and the Razorbacks reviewed their 10-day trip overseas Tuesday, looking back on a 4-0 performance. It was an excursion that gave Arkansas an early look at what it can expect from its 2011-12 team. One of the first lessons? There should be plenty of competition for playing time when practice resumes in October.
The Razorbacks sent 14 players on the trip and 12 of them averaged at least 12 minutes a game. No one, according to Arkansas’ statistics, averaged more than 22.
“Not only do we have options, but we have competition,” Anderson said. “Competition is great for a team and we didn’t have that luxury last year.
“As I see this team right now, from what I’ve seen from this trip, that’s going to be hopefully something that is going to help our team – the competition.”
Anderson said he was most impressed with the play of veterans BJ Young and Mardracus Wade, who ranked first and second on the team in scoring last season.
Anderson said Young’s all-around game, especially on defense, has improved in the offseason. Young said it was an important area of concentration over the summer.
“I wanted to improve on my defense and rebounding,” said Young, who considered entering the 2012 NBA Draft. “Those are two things I really want to focus on. I want to help our bigs rebound and just be a presence on the defensive end. I want to become an all-around player in every aspect of the game this year. I feel like I can.”
Anderson also was complimented junior college transfer Coty Clarke, who was one of the final additions to the roster in the offseason. Clarke averaged a team-high 8.3 rebounds during the Italian tour and helped the Hogs offensively as well.
Anderson said Clarke’s talents are comparable to those of former Arkansas forward Lenzie Howell, who was a key member of the 1989 and 1990 teams. He is expected to help a frontcourt that also includes Marshawn Powell, who played in three of the four games in Italy during his return from last season’s knee injury.
“He was an undersized post guy and just had a great nose for the basketball,” Anderson said of Clarke. “Coty has toughness too. That’s what I like about him. He’s always where the action is.”
Said Young: “He’s just a hard worker. That’s what we need.”
The three helped Arkansas win each game of its tour by an average of 22.3 points.
It included a 42-point win in the opener against Amici del Campetto. There were bigger challenges against Atletas, a Lithuanian team that lost 95-84 and 84-67 to Arkansas during the middle games of the four-game tour.
In between, Arkansas toured cities like Milan, Florence and Rome. They toured sites like the Roman Colosseum, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and Vatican City.
Wade believes the time together off the floor will prove just as valuable.
“The main focus going on this trip was not only playing basketball, but also just to come together as one, as a unit and just to get familiar with each other and learn about each other,” said Wade, who averaged a team-high 15.8 points. “Once you become a family off the court, it kind of carries onto the court. That’s what we try to do. Once we start playing well on the court, it just helps this team win games.”
Arkansas returned to Fayetteville late Sunday and players were in classes Monday morning. They admitted to feeling some jetlag, but Anderson said he planned to take it easy on them the next couple of weeks while they adjusted to class schedules.
It won’t be long, though, before preparation for 2011-12 season continues for the Razorbacks. Anderson said the tour of Italy was important in laying the foundation.
“We’ve got some more pieces to the puzzle,” Anderson said. “That was really displayed on this trip. The key now is putting those pieces together and seeing it formulate as a team. We’ll certainly use this experience to help our team.”