FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Arkansas coach Mike Anderson says he was “blindsided” by a tumultuous offseason for the Razorbacks, one that included the arrests of three players on allegations of using counterfeit money.
Still, entering his fifth season at Arkansas – his 22nd overall at the school, including 17 as an assistant – Anderson remains optimistic the program can build on last year’s second-place finish in the Southeastern Conference.
Led by SEC Player of the Year Bobby Portis, the Razorbacks finished 27-9 last season and reached their NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008.
The excitement-filled season was the culmination of four years of rebuilding for Anderson, though the school took a step back afterward following the early departures for the NBA of Portis and second-leading scorer Michael Qualls.
That was only the first step in a difficult offseason for the Razorbacks.
Starting point guard Anton Beard, forward Jacorey Williams and transfer Dustin Thomas were arrested by Fayetteville police in July, accused of using counterfeit $20 bills and exchanging counterfeit $50 bills for $100 bills.
Williams was dismissed in August, while Beard and Thomas have been suspended from the team and remain enrolled in school awaiting trial.
“I think if you’re in it long enough, you’re going to have some of those things take place,” Anderson said. “I was kind of blindsided by some of it, I’ll say that. … When it happens, I think the measure of, not only the person but the program, is how you deal with it. And I think we’re dealing with it in the right way.”
With Portis and Qualls’ departures, as well as the graduation of Ky Madden and Alandise Harris, Arkansas enters this season without four of its top five scorers from a year ago.
The lone returner in that mix is senior shooting guard Anthlon Bell, who averaged 7.9 points per game last season while shooting 35.1 percent on 3-pointers.
Bell’s outside ability is something the Razorbacks expect to use often this season without the interior scoring touch of Portis, and because the revamped roster features several top shooters – including Texas Tech transfer Dusty Hannahs and heralded freshman guard Jimmy Whitt.
Anderson said they’re also likely to run more this season in order to try and manufacture easy offense through defensive pressure.
“We’re still going to play Hog basketball, 40 minutes of Hell,” Bell said.
Anderson wouldn’t comment in detail on the arrests of Beard or Thomas, but he did say he talks with the two while they’re on suspension. He also said they are continuing to work out on their own, with the hope of being reinstated after the legal process plays out.
In the meantime, Anderson is embracing a return to the underdog role after last season’s breakout – calling the reversal a “challenge” and insisting “We’re not going backward.”
“It’s unfortunate that we had some individuals that, No. 1, they (did) some things that hurt the team,” Anderson said. “But at the end of the day, let’s see how these other guys respond.”