BURN THE HORSEEven as inexperienced as UALR appears to be this year (12 players who are either sophomores or freshmen), the roster looks to have improved as a whole over last year’s team, which finished atop the Sun Belt’s West Division with a 12-4 league mark.
While the Trojans face massive inexperience at the point guard, they should be at least equal at the shooting guard. The three other spots appear to be pluses as we head into fall practice.
Let’s take a look.
Minus. It will take a pretty special effort from a freshman if UALR is to improve at point guard from last year. That’s not to say that any of the freshmen point guards (Josh Hagins, John Gillon, Casey Wilmath) or even senior Ted Crass can’t step in and have a nice season. But it will be difficult to replace what D’Andre Williams brought to that position last year. Williams had some iffy moments, but he largely carried the Trojans on his back. One plus here is whoever ends up being the backup. Eric Lawton served in that role a year ago. Lawton, who wasn’t really a point guard, never really clicked at the position. He’s since transferred. This year’s backup should provide more depth than UALR had a year ago. Based on potential, the sky’s the limit for this group. Based on experience, this is a minus going into practice.
Equal. From an experience standpoint, this position is probably a minus when you subtract Chuck Guy, who transferred to DII over the summer. It was pretty much Guy and Ben Dillard at this spot a year ago. Guy was erratic most of the season. When he was good, he was really good. When he struggled, he really struggled. Dillard got off to a slow start after missing the summer after surgery. He had a nice freshman year, but didn’t provide the spark to consistently ignite the Trojan offense. He’ll need to this year. He’s stronger this and brings an air of confidence and leadership we didn’t see much of last year. One area where UALR is sure to be a plus this year is guard depth, albeit inexperienced depth. Freshmen Kemy Osse, Mareik Isom and Stetson Billings will battle for time here. Based on experience, this is a minus. Based on depth and potential, this is a plus. We’ll call it equal.
Off guard/small forward
Plus. This might be the most competitive spot on the roster going into camp. Last year, Will Neighbour started down the stretch in this spot. That was made possible because Courtney Jackson started at the 4 and could guard Neighbour’s matchup on the defensive end. That might be the case again this year. But it won’t be because there isn’t another option. Taggart Lockhart had a nice freshman year and is now healthy. He’s put in a lot of time on his game and could be much improved at this spot. Billings and/or Isom could also figure in at this spot with their height. But a bigger impact at this spot might come from junior college transfer Leroy Isler. The depth he provides at this spot probably enables UALR to move Neighbour to the four spot. Then again, Isler could be used similarly to Jackson with his ability to guard a faster player. All of this doesn’t even include redshirt freshman James White, who by all accounts has made tremendous strides since last year. White came in as a four but has the skills to play the three and will absolutely be in the mix for playing time. This position is at least an equal and leaning heavily toward the plus side.
Plus. Courtney Jackson was a nice player at the four last season. His ability to drive to the basket to score, along with improved free throw shooting, made him tough for opponents to deal with. But Jackson couldn’t stretch the defense with his outside shot. UALR has several players this year who potentially could do that. It starts with Neighbour, who figures to get a lot of his time here because of the logjam happening at the three spot. Neighbour’s shoulder is healthy (or will be by November) and he’s been able to add some strength over the summer. White and Isler should also figure in here and walk-on Mike Evans will provide additional depth if needed. The wildcard here comes in Gus Leeper. He was more than solid during the 2011 run to the Sun Belt Tournament championship and provides a little outside shooting to go with an inside game. Jackson’s departure hurts, but if Neighbour’s healthy it’s an absolute plus.
Plus. UALR loses Marlon Louzeiro, who struggled to get consistent minutes last year. Michael Javes and Neighbour played most of the minutes here. Javes showed some flashes of greatness as a freshman. He’s stronger this year and should have a better concept of what the coaching staff wants from him. UALR also has more options this year. In addition to Neighbour, Leeper also returns with added strength. And freshman Andrew Poulter could add some depth here if he doesn’t redshirt. This position is an a no-brainer equal but likely moves to the plus if Leeper plays the way he did in the 2011 Sun Belt Tournament.