LITTLE ROCK — At Bryant when Alandise Harris was a junior, Little Rock Central coach Oliver Fitzpatrick all but begged the Hornets to play man defense.
No way. Not with a chance to upset the mighty Tigers. On the other bench, Fitzpatrick was steadfast, refusing to allow his team to throw up a shot against a packed-in zone and ordering the Tigers to play catch for more than four minutes. With seconds to play, the Tigers got the ball to Harris who made a game-winning, turn-around jumper.
When Fitzpatrick shared the story, I don’t know what impressed me most — that Harris embraced the moment or that he was cool with the do-nothing strategy. Not many 16-year-olds have the self-discipline for abstention.
Arkansas freshman Bobby Portis might be the Razorback newcomer most likely to turn in an extraordinary game, but Houston transfer Harris is the player most qualified to be a stabilizing presence with solid numbers game after game.
"Alandise embodies leadership by example and he is a good teammate, one who will encourage a teammate and inspire him through words and deeds," Fitzpatrick said. He rattled off a half-dozen of Harris’ qualities and caught my attention with No. 4. "He is unselfish," Fitzpatrick said.
A scorer-defender-rebounder who does not make a beeline for the official scorer’s book after the final buzzer is high on my wish list. I suspect coach Mike Anderson would agree.
The fact that Harris always wanted to be a Razorback is another plus. "Alandise is living a part of his dream — to play for the Hogs," Fitzpatrick said.
He backed up that statement with an anecdote about Harris’ visit to an elite camp at Marquette. " … when coach (Buzz) Williams came to greet Alandise, he was wearing a Razorback T-shirt!" Fitzpatrick said. "Needless to say that didn’t go over well, but Alandise put on such a show that Buzz was still willing to take him."
Harris wound up at Houston after John Pelphrey reneged on a verbal promise of a scholarship. With the Cougars, Harris averaged 9.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game as a sophomore and 13.3 and 6.4 as a sophomore, including 18 points and six rebounds in a victory over Arkansas. He also scored 21 against LSU in his second year so he has at least been exposed to some SEC basketball.
With Harris, Coty Clarke, Jacory Williams, Portis, and others, Arkansas should be able to score inside, which begs the questions of whether the Razorbacks have a point guard to get the ball to those players and whether there is a reliable 3-point shooter.
Anderson has mentioned doing the point guard thing by committee, but I suspect he will settle on somebody before the Razorbacks begin SEC play in January. Suspended for two exhibition games and last week’s opener against SIU-Edwardsville for a rule violation, Ky Madden is supposed to be available Friday night against Louisiana-Lafayette and he might be the man if he does it Anderson’s way.
Although the Razorbacks are probably better across the board from long range, identifying a 3-point shooter is a must because opponents will surround Harris, Clarke, Williams, and Portis. A year ago, the Razorbacks were 13th in the 14-team SEC in 3-point shooting, making exactly three of every 10. Florida threatened 38 percent from long range and five other teams did .346 or better.
In the romp over SIU-Edwardsville, the Razorbacks made half of their 16 3s, including 5-of-6 by Anthlon Bell. During the season, Bell converting 40-plus percent per game would be welcome.
Three games in Hawaii in late November provide Anderson’s best opportunity to mix and match players against decent competition, but we won’t have a good line on the Razorbacks until the SEC opener at Texas A&M and Fayetteville games vs. Florida and Kentucky.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau.