March Madness is just behind us, and all the buzz surrounding Arkansas athletics is on the surging Arkansas Razorback baseball team, and the improved football team in the midst of wrapping up their spring practices.
However, today feels like a good time to talk Arkansas Razorback basketball for 2010.
In the past two weeks the Razorbacks basketball team has taken a few hits. First, highly regarded JUCO prospect Ricardo Ratliffe chose Missouri over the Hogs, and then just within the last 24 hours Razorbacks starting point guard Courtney Fortson has declared for the NBA Draft.
For many Arkansas fans this feeling of "here we go again.." has already sunk in, but not so fast my avid Hog calling compadres. There are positive things getting in motion on the Hill.
There is the incoming 2010 class, great momentum with the 2011 recruiting class, and (cross your fingers) more talent returning to play for the Razorbacks in 2010 than any year since the 07-08 season.
In the first part of a two part series of articles to come this week today we are going to spend a little time looking at the guards the Razorbacks will have on the court in 2010.
Courtney Fortson - 5'11", 180lb, Junior
I know...I know...Fortson just declared for the NBA Draft. So why am I listing him as a returning player for next season?
The answer is simple. Because if he makes the right decision he will be wearing a Arkansas Razorback uniform next season, and not some European professional teams jersey.
Fortson has spent as much time in John Pelphrey's doghouse as he has on the hardwood since arriving at Arkansas, and that is a good thing if you can look at it as Pelphrey doing the right thing to help mature a young man that needs guidance.
On the court Fortson has the ability at point guard that no other Razorback player has, and it is all pure talent. His court vision, ball handling, and intensity is like none other on the team.
The downside with Forston is that because of his multiple suspensions he has developed a bad wrap for having a poor attitude and being a negative influence on the team. Not something pro scouts want to hear.
So for Fortson returning to Arkansas and playing the 2010 season with a purpose to prove what kind of teammate, point guard, and person he is will be a great story line for the Razorbacks in 2010.
Jeff Peterson - 6'0", 192lb, Junior
Perhaps one of the most likely players to make a huge impact in 2010 is Jeff Peterson. For those of you with a good memory you know that Peterson transferred to Arkansas from Iowa. At Iowa Peterson averaged 10.6 ppg, 4.2 apg, and 33 mpg as a sophomore.
In 2009 Peterson had to redshirt after transferring, but he was able to practice with the team and reports from players, Pelphrey, and the media were that Peterson is going to be a really great player for the Hogs in 2010.
If Fortson does hire an agent or decide to go pro in the NBA or Europe, it is likely that Peterson will be the starting point guard for the Razorbacks. He has the size and experience to make an impact right away, and by all means he fits the mold of a true point guard in his play on both ends of the court and is better than Fortson in many ways.
Julysses Nobles - 6'1", 170lb, Sophomore
The 2009 season was a roller-coaster ride for Hog fans, players, and coaches-but none experienced it more than true freshman Julysses Nobles.
Nobles was seen as a good defender and a much overlooked recruit coming out of high school that Pelphrey signed late for the 2009 class. It was widely thought that Nobles would be able to redshirt or play sparingly to give Courtney Fortson breathers here and there.
Instead, Nobles was thrust into an immediate starting role with Fortson out for the first half of the season under suspension. In the beginning he amazed many people with his play. He took care of the ball and made good decisions, but that did not last long as Nobles hit a wall about six games into the season.
Then as the Razorbacks ended their non-conference play Forston returned and for many weeks Nobles remained on the bench. He had gone from recruit, to starting point guard, to bench warmer in a whirlwind.
However, by the end of the season Nobles had worked hard enough in practice to improve and regain John Pelphrey's trust that he once again was a regular in the rotation backing up Fortson. His late season surge has many expecting him to be much improved in 2010, and he showed that defensively he was the best defender of all the guards the Hogs had in 2009.
Rotnei Clarke - 6'0", 184lb, Junior
A little over a month ago the Razorbacks season ended, and their was no March Madness, and little at all to celebrate. Immediately a rumor spread that star shooting guard Rotnei Clarke was considering leaving Arkansas.
What followed was a bit comical as Clarke hushed the rumor and took a shot at local Arkansas medias that broke the story. Those media members then turned around and took their own shots back at Clarke saying he was putting positive spin on the matter and that their source was credible and telling the truth. Who do you believe?
Anyways, Clarke is widely considered one of, if not the best shooters in all of college basketball. He lights it up from outside as he has shown in each of his first two seasons wearing a Razorback uniform. Fortunately for Clarke, John Pelphrey made a conscious effort to recruit talented guards in the 2010 recruiting class to come in and help free up Clarke who has been covered like white on rice ever since he stepped foot on campus by opposing teams top defenders.
Marcus Britt - 6'3", 198lb, Senior
Marcus Britt is the lone four year senior on the team. He is joined by forwards Jemal Farmer and Delvon Johnson who both were first year Juco transfers for the Razorbacks last season.
Britt is a defensive presence on the court, but has shown very little consistency on the offensive end. But it is not because he cannot shoot, in fact he improved to one of the better field goal percentages on the teams roster last season. The reason is because Britt shows very little confidence to shoot the ball.
In 2010 Britt will likely be asked to become a leader and to show more aggressiveness on the court. With more bodies and talent in the backcourt for Pelphrey to run his uptempo defensive style of play, Britt is a perfect senior to have show that intensity to the younger players. Luckily Britt has two of the top 5 rated defensive shooting guards in the entire 2010 recruiting class to mentor.
Rickey Scott - 6'3", 185lb, Freshman
In 2009 Courtney Fortson was the leading scorer for the Arkansas Razorbacks even after missing the first 13 games of the season. As a point guard that is never a good sign. So what did John Pelphrey go do on the recruiting trail? Two words- Rickey Scott.
Rickey Scott led all of the Dallas Fort Worth area in scoring his senior season of high school and he is a tall long guard. But the best traits for Scott are on the defensive end if you can believe that.
Earlier this month Scott was named by Jerry Meyer , Rivals.com Basketball Recruiting Analyst, as the best guard defender of the 2010 recruiting class.
Between being a leading scorer and a top defender Hog fans should all expect to see Scott on the floor making a major impact for the Razorbacks right away.
Mardracus Wade - 6'3", 175lb, Freshman
To pick up right where we left off with Rickey Scott, Mardracus Wade will be an impact player for the Arkansas Razorbacks as a freshman in 2010.
He has virtually the same size as Scott, and like Scott he was named a top defender by Rivals.com's Jerry Meyer. In fact, Wade came in at fourth on the list just a few spots below Scott.
Wade is a Memphis native, that moved away to Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia to mature and develop as both a young man and a basketball player. Mission accomplished.
Wade's coaches at Hargrave have praised him for over a year now, and he led Hargrave to a nearly perfect record in 2009 with only one loss.
Wade has good scoring ability, good passing skills, but just like Scott it is his defensive abilities that will insure himself stable playing time as a freshman for the Razorbacks.
Yes folks that is seven guards on the roster, and seven valid options to play and contribute. Isn't depth a beautiful thing?
For those of you ready to jump ship and become a UALR fan or some other team after hearing Fortson declared for the NBA Draft hopefully this will calm you down, and show you that Pelphrey has in fact been working hard in his first three seasons to field a basketball team.
Bigger and more talented guard play has been an area holding the Razorbacks back for the past two seasons. The Hogs have allowed teams to shoot the three point basket at an alarming rate, and have been unable to match up with deeper and bigger guard play of the better teams the Hogs have faced. In 2010 with Fortson or no Fortson the Arkansas Razorbacks will be one of the more talented backcourts in the SEC, and you can put that in your pipe and smoke it.
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