ROME, Italy – Moments after his team had finished 4-0 on its Italian exhibition tour, Arkansas
head basketball coach Mike Anderson
pronounced the trip a huge success.
Not only did the Razorbacks take care of business on the court, but Anderson noted the players and coaches got an educational experience they will never forget off of it.
Anderson knows that seeing the sights in Milan, Lake Como, Florence, Pisa, Rome and Vatican City and experiencing Italian culture resonated with his team.
"When we get back we are going to have a little education session on this," Anderson said. "A couple of guys have already come up to me after the game and said ‘Coach, this was a great experience. Thanks for bringing us."
He also – for the most part – loved what he saw on the court as Arkansas mixed in five new scholarship players with its nine vets and won its four games by a total of 88 points.
The Razorbacks downed Amici del Campetto 129-89, beat Lithuania's strong Atlelas Kanuas squad 95-84 and 84-67 on successive nights and then whipped All Star Italy 93-73 in its final outing.
"It got the process going early with so many new players," Anderson said. "I am excited. This trip here, I am already one of those guys that's got energy, always into what I am doing. I have passion about it and I think this here even pumps it up another level because now I have a better idea of what we are dealing with this team."
Anderson – whose team will fly out late Saturday night Arkansas time - said that after getting their legs back under them after 13 hours of air travel on the way over, the players' minds became focused on what they were seeing.
They got to see such things as Michelangelo's sculpture of David, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Rome's Colosseum and Forum and Vatican City – which is its own country and features St. Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel – as well as many other historical sights.
"It's amazing," Anderson said. "When you first come, your guys take tours and have headsets in, they are listening and you can tell they think it is boring. But then once they got to see Michelangelo's David masterpiece and get to go into the Colosseum. They have seen the movie Gladiators and in their mind they think it took place here.
"Just to see how another culture lives, I think it was very educational - to listening and picking up some of the language and some of the things that take place," Anderson added. "And the food, man, it was fantastic."
"Overall, I thought it was a positive experience," Anderson continued. "…We learned a lot about Italia, Italy history, Roman history. It's been a good trip."
Redshirt junior Marshawn Powell
said it was all good after the long plane flight and he had a favorite city on the tour.
"I think my favorite part was just the whole experience I had in Florence," Powell said. "Florence is a beautiful city."
Freshman Anthlon Bell
was one of the players who had visiting the Colosseum as his favorite thing while in Italy.
"I like the Colosseum the best," Bell said. "But I like Milan, too. It was a big change to see everybody walking instead of driving. I had to get used to that."
It was the first chance to see the four freshmen –Bell, Michael Qualls
, Jacorey Williams
and Dee Wagner
- and junior college transfer Coty Clarke in action.
"We are real close," Bell said. "We stay in the same dorm so we have learned one another and become real close friends. We know we have to come in and play how Coach A wants us to play – give him energy and defense."
Junior guard Mardracus Wade
, sophomore guard B.J. Young
, Clarke and freshman Qualls led the way on the court.
Wade – who scored in double figures in each game - averaged 15.8 points on the tour while Young scored at a 15.0 clip followed by Clarke (14.3) and Qualls (11.7).
"BJ, I thought he was really consistent throughout," Anderson said. "Whether it was scoring or defensively, he handled the basketball well, he distributed it well, he played within himself."
"Today, he (Wade) had a really good game in terms of steals and defections," Anderson said. He probably had 8 or 10 and was close to a double-double. I thought he took good shots and played the game the right way."
Young had 16 steals and Wade 11 to lead that department while sophomore center Hunter Mickelson
(6-10, 240) swatted away 7 blocks to top that chart.
"Hunter got a chance to go against some guys with great size and did really well," Anderson said. "He fouled out of the last game, but that gave him a chance to experience what he needs to avoid once he has three and four fouls."
The 6-7, 225-pound Clarke was as advertised on the boards with an 8.3 average while Young led the way with 13 assists on the trip and Rashad Madden
"Clarke just is a beast on the boards for us and that is going to help us so much," Anderson said. "Ky (Madden) just does a little bit of everything for us. He is great for us In so many ways."
Freshmen Qualls and Jacorey Williams had the most highlight worthy dunks on the trip while showing off their athleticism and versatility.
"Like I said earlier on this trip, those guys just do things that make you go ‘whoa, where did that come from?'" Anderson said.
No one averaged more than 22 minutes of action per contest on the trip and 12 of the 14 players on the trip averaged at least 12 minutes per game.
"You have got more options and when you have more options you are going to have competition in practice," Anderson said. "I think that competition is going to make some of our guys focus better.
"Last year they had the luxury of not having all of our players," Anderson said. "Now we have more pieces. We just have got to get those guys to learn the defenses and the offenses. We are going to hang our hats on our defense."
It was also good for Powell to test his knee after an injury kept him out of all but two games last season.
He played two games, Anderson rested him in the third game and then he had 10 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists in the final contest as the Razorbacks constantly attacked the basket.
"We are going to be an attacking team," Anderson said. "We have got a lot of players that can really create. And we get back a healthy Marshawn Powell (for the start of practice in October). We saw glimpses of that today."
Having been able to get 10 practices and four games in August will certainly help the Razorbacks when official practice starts in October according to Anderson.
"I will find out early on because we had a chance to practice and experience some things that I won't have to go back over," Anderson said. "We can expedite the process in terms of learning the things we have to do offensively – execution, spacing, what guys can shoot the basketball.
"…You put all of this together and we have the makings of a very good basketball team," Anderson added. "It was great to get a start early on."
Arkansas' basketball team went 4-0 on its exhibition tour of Italy, but it was the cultural and educational experiences that the Razorbacks got off the court that may stay with them longer.