FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas forward Alandise Harris is looking forward to the exhibition opener against Central Oklahoma for a number of reasons.
The most important wasn’t exactly predictable Wednesday.
Harris has simply had enough of the way Arkansas coach Mike Anderson and his staff, which includes assistant Melvin Watkins, officiates during scrimmage sessions.
"They’re all on the same level. Horrible," Harris said. "All three of them, four of them. They all ref. We have four referees and can’t get no fouls."
Harris and the rest of his teammates will get their wish when Arkansas tips off its exhibition schedule in Bud Walton Arena on Friday at 7 p.m. The Razorbacks will play the Division II school from Edmond, Okla., then face Pittsburg State next Thursday. It’s the next step toward the Nov. 16 opener against Alabama State.
Anderson said he’ll use the exhibitions as another step in the evaluation process for his team, which has been projected to finish third in the Southeastern Conference behind Kentucky and Florida. Everyone will get a chance to impress.
"It’s good for us because it gives us a chance to go against someone other than ourselves," Anderson said. "Our guys right now are at the stage where they are chippie. They’re in that mode where they kind of get stale. So I have got to be creative to keep them motivated and keep them going. … You’re talking about starting in the period of July they’ve been going at each other."
Anderson has seen the intensity on the practice court. He has applauded it, too.
There’s a reason behind his officiating philosophy — "no blood, no foul" — in Arkansas’ practice sessions. Anderson said he doesn’t let it get "outrageous," but wants to make sure his team is aggressive, rugged and prepared for an important opening month that includes the two exhibitions and six regular season games.
"I’ve got the whistle so it’s my judgment," Anderson said. "Sometimes my judgment isn’t very good for a reason when you’re trying to get your guys to play at a certain level and get them to understand you’ve got to play through adversity. So I would rather try to put them under as much pressure as I possibly can."
Arkansas point guard Jabril Durham said the Razorbacks have felt that intensity in competitive practice sessions. But he joked about nominating the staff for "referee of the year" awards to counter Harris’ criticism Wednesday.
Durham — a junior college transfer — is one of five newcomers on the 2014-15 roster preparing for the first opportunity to put on an Arkansas uniform, joining freshmen Nick Babb, Trey Thompson and Anton Beard. Guard Dusty Hannahs also will participate Friday night, although he’s sitting out this season because of NCAA transfer rules. Forward Keaton Miles is preparing for his junior season as well after sitting out last season following his transfer from West Virginia.
It may just be an exhibition game Friday night, but Durham is looking forward to the first game-like test with the rest of the Razorbacks.
"It’s my first Division I game, period," Durham said. "So, it’s very exciting to finally put on a Razorbacks jersey in front of however many people for the first time."
Arkansas has gotten a taste of its potential throughout preseason practices and two scrimmages. Anderson split his team for last Friday’s Red-White Scrimmage in Bud Walton Arena, which the Red won 99-98 on Michael Qualls’ put-back dunk.
The Razorbacks also traveled to Central Arkansas on Sunday, scrimmaging at Vilonia High to benefit residents affected by last spring’s tornadoes.
Anderson said it was important to get his team in two game-like situations in front of fans. It will be even better to put them all together to face another opponent Friday night. Anderson doesn’t get to call the fouls, but his team will be tested.
"This will give me an opportunity to see them when the popcorn is popping and you’ve got fans in the stands and you’re playing someone other than yourselves now," Anderson said. "So we’ll see if those guys can go out and play and do some of the things that we have been working on."