LITTLE ROCK — John Pelphrey was asked for a brief summary of his returning starters.
It didn't take long.
”We don't have a whole lot of them,“ the Arkansas coach said.
The Razorbacks lost six seniors from the team that reached the NCAA Tournament's second round last season.
Guard Patrick Beverley is the team's top returning scorer. He started 33 games last season and was the only non-senior in the starting lineup when Arkansas' season ended.
”He's going to have to continue his solid play and even grow more as a leader,“ Pelphrey said.
Stefan Welsh split time with then-senior Gary Ervin at point guard. Welsh started 21 games but averaged under 20 minutes. Ervin was the starter by season's end.
Welsh, Beverley and forward Michael Washington will all be juniors this season, and Pelphrey is counting on them. The 6-foot-10 Washington started nine games in 2007-08.
”We're looking forward to seeing Mike blossom,“ Pelphrey said. ”He's worked extremely hard this summer.“
Aside from those three juniors, the rest of the team is unproven. Next season's newcomers might have a chance to crack the rotation. Included in that group is Rotnei Clarke, who set the career high-school scoring record for Oklahoma.
”It wasn't too long ago that I was in the same shoes as them,“ Welsh said. He now has to become a mentor and a backcourt leader for a team that lost its best big men.
”We might not have more talent than our team last year as far as in the post,“ Welsh said. ”But one thing I can rest assured is that we're going to play 100 percent every night, and every night the fans are going to get our best effort.“
Arkansas lost 7-footer Steven Hill, a major factor on defense, and forward Darian Townes, who shot 60 percent from the field last season. Swingman Sonny Weems, the team's leading scorer in '07-08, is also gone.
The result could be a smaller but quicker lineup. Washington appears to be the team's top center prospect. He's not as big as Hill, but he can run the court and even make an occasional outside shot.
”It's going to be a fun year,“ Welsh said. ”It's going to be a learning process.“