UALR players reporting to campus; strength and conditioning is focus

Over the course of the next week, UALR's players will report back to Little Rock to begin summer classes and preparation for the 2012-2013 season.

Thirteen of the 14 players on the roster are scheduled to be here this summer with only freshman Kemy Osse not present (he'll be here in August). One rule change this year permits coaches two hours per week to work with players in the summer.

"What's really good about it is just the accessibility to our guys," UALR Coach Steve Shields told Burn The Horse. "I'm really excited about this group."

The UALR players will continue to work with strength and conditioning coach John Barron this summer. His past work is on display with UALR's returners. Michael Javes is up to nearly 235 pounds (he reported last year closer to 210) and redshirt sophomore Gus Leeper is topping out at around 250 pounds (likewise he was closer to 210 when he originally reported).

That will be important for UALR's freshman class that includes Mareik Isom, Stetson Billings, Josh Hagins, John Gillon, Andrew Poulter and Kemy Osse. All except Poulter need to put on weight to increase their effectiveness at the college level.

"Mareik Isom and Stetson Billings have already been here this summer and they'll have the jump on some of the other guys. They all need strength and weight," Shields said.

But just because the coaching staff is able to spend some on-the-court time with the players, doesn't mean they'll go too hard with the basketball drills.

"I don't want it to be a situation where the guys wear out. It's such a long year and you've got to be careful," Shields said. "Getting a base to them is critical. We didn't have that last year and I think it impacted our start to the season."

Those missing from last year's summer workouts were Will Neighbour (international play), Michael Javes (not cleared), Chuck Guy (hernia), Ben Dillard (hernia), Eric Lawton and Reggie Fondren (both finishing up at juco).

UALR will participate in Hoops for Hope Classic in Puerto Vallarta

UALR Coach Steve Shields confirmed that UALR has signed on to participate in the Hoops for Hope Classic.

UALR will host two games in November at the Jack Stephens Center. They'll then travel to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where they'll play two games. Those two games in Mexico will come from a pool that will include SMU, Missouri State and South Carolina. UALR split two games with SMU the past two seasons and has lost four times in the past four years to Missouri State.

It appears those Puerto Vallarta games will be played Nov. 23 and 25, which is the Friday and Sunday after Thanksgiving.

As reported last month on Burn The Horse, UALR has to pay guarantees to their two Stephens Center opponents. No word yet on who those opponents will be. The Springfield News-Leader reported Missouri State will host Jacksonville and Alcorn State for its games.

The Hoops for Hope Classic is supposed to announce the tournament field and schedule in the next week.

UALR players report this weekend; summer workouts begin immediately

Those UALR players not already on campus are scheduled to report this weekend. Several, including Ted Crass, Will Neighbour, Taggart Lockhart, Michael Javes, Mareik Isom and Stetson Billings have already been here for the past month. They've been going through 6 a.m. workouts with strength and conditioning coach John Barron.

Everyone else (except freshman Kemy Osse) should begin to participate in those workouts next week. Workouts will be a little different this summer with UALR coaches now able to hold limited team workouts. That should be especially beneficial to the newcomers.

Until then, here's a look at Isom working out with Terrence Rencher, who is Texas' all-time leading scorer.

UALR freshman Josh Hagins brings unselfish game, big talk to Trojans


It doesn’t take long for you to listen to Josh Hagins talk to start getting excited about him.

Hagins is one of six freshman newcomers this year for UALR and the second to be profiled in this Burn The Horse Series. He’s a 6-2 point guard from Airline High School in Bossier City, La., who averaged 14.4 points, 6.6 assists and 2.6 steals last season.

 “I’m excited. We’ve got five really good freshmen coming in,” Hagins said in an interview before Kemy Osse signed this spring. “I’m just trying to see how far I can take this team.”

What we’ve already seen from Hagins has been encouraging. What we hear from him so far is even more encouraging. How many recruits talk about fellow recruits when they do interviews? He does. He’s also been talking up his new teammates on Twitter and vows to leave his mark at UALR before he’s finished. And after calling the frosh class the Fab Five all year, he took to Twitter last week in search of a nickname for the six. We suggested “Super Six.”

“Josh is a winner. He hates to lose and is a true gym rat. They are few and far between these days but he lives in the gym,” Airline coach Chris White said. “He has very good ball-handling skills, sees the floor well and makes unbelievable passes. He gets just as much pleasure out of a great pass as he does from making a shot. He has a very high basketball I.Q. and is a great leader.”

Hagins made an official visit to Creighton last September and chose UALR over the likes of Louisiana Tech, Louisiana-Lafayette and Northwestern State. The fact that he previously lived in Little Rock and attended UALR Coach Steve Shields’ camp didn’t hurt.

“I used to always go that camp,” Hagins told the Shreveport Times. “I knew the coaches well. It just kind of felt right when they came back to me.”

Hagins, a 2 star by Rivals, won an AAU National Championship with the Louisiana Roundballers. And Airline was poised to make a state tournament run when Hagins suffered a hairline fracture of the left ankle that ended his season in the final week.

He’s healthy now and will report with the rest of the UALR players this week. Hagins is considered an above-average passer with a high basketball I.Q. Memo to UALR’s players: Keep your head up and yourself ready to shoot. He can zip a pass through the tightest of areas.

“He’s a point guard that looks to pass the ball ahead and push it up the floor. He is always looking to get his teammates involved, but can really shoot the ball as well,” Shields said.

After winning the Shreveport area’s athlete of the week award last year, he was asked whether he’d rather make a three-pointer or pick up an assist.

“A beautiful assist any day,” Hagins said. “Anybody can make a three. But how many people can say they set their team up consistently.”

Upside: Hagins has superior court vision and has proven to be an above average passer. He also appears to have the leadership qualities necessary for a point guard.

Downside: He’s only a freshman and is going to be depended upon to contribute minutes immediately. Without a point guard mentor on the roster, it’s going to be plenty of on-the-job training for Hagins.

Outlook: There’s not much to dislike about Hagins. He’s definitely going to get a major opportunity as a freshman, probably a bigger opportunity than most freshmen typically get under Shields. He seems to have the mental makeup to handle it.

How many victories will UALR have this season? Vote in the Burn the Horse poll

Thanks to the Gillon and Isom families for running up the totals in the last poll. John Gillon was the winner in the which freshman do you expect to have the biggest impact poll.
It should be noted that Josh Hagins held a pretty nice lead before the inflation of posts.
We're moving on.
Without knowing the exact schedule, how many victories do you think UALR will have this season? The poll is open in the left column of this page.

Isom running away with Burn the Horse top UALR freshman poll

We'll have to wait until November to find out if UALR freshman Mareik Isom will be a solid pickup. But one thing is for certain. He's got a lot of family and friends who read Burn The Horse. And we're excited to have them and Mareik with us this year.

Isom is running away with the Burn The Horse poll asking which freshman will have the biggest impact this season. Isom sits at 37 percent and has continued to build his lead over the past week.

Most of the remainder of the freshmen class is bunched up. Josh Hagins is at 12 percent, Stetson Billings 10 percent, John Gillon 8 percent, Kemy Osse 7 percent and Andrew Poulter 1 percent.

We'll leave this poll up a little longer so the ballot box can continue to be stuffed. And if you've got an idea for future polls, send them to

Video of UALR freshman point guard Josh Hagins

We'll have more on UALR freshman Josh Hagins next week. But until then, enjoy this.

Not sure how we missed this previously. This is from February when UALR freshman Josh Hagins was named athlete of the week in the Shreveport area. His coach talks about what type of player he is and Hagins gives an indication of what he's expecting at UALR.

After you watch you'll have a pretty good idea why the coaching staff is really excited about him.

Austin's Mareik Isom brings size, shooting, smarts to UALR


Mareik Isom

We begin our series looking at UALR’s six incoming players with Mareik Isom from Austin, Texas.

Isom is a 6-6 guard who averaged 16.5 points last year for Bowie High School, where he was named all-district, all-region and to the All-CenTex team. The other schools recruiting him included Air Force, Louisiana-Monroe, Manhattan, NJIT, Sam Houston State and Texas-Pan American.

Isom’s father, Kendall, played basketball at Louisiana-Lafayette. And Mareik Isom looks like a lot of the bigger guards that played for Louisiana-Lafayette under Coach Robert Lee, who is now an assistant at UALR.

Somewhat like the story of UALR junior Will Neighbour, Isom had a growth spurt during high school. He was a 5-10 high school freshman and a 6-6 college freshman.

 “Mareik is a long, rangy two-three combo player who shoots it exceptionally well. With added strength and weight, he can become a very good player in the Sun Belt Conference,” UALR Coach Steve Shields said. “He’s a 24-7 basketball guy. He really puts in the effort to work on his game during his free time and has benefited from a lot of great coaching.”

Isom had a very good high school coach in Celester Collier, who is the former head coach at Texas State. 

He also played AAU for the Austin Ice, which is coached by former San Antonio Spur Johnny Moore.

He shot 49 percent from the field, 48 percent from three-point range and 83 percent from the free throw line as a high school senior. That helped Bowie to its first district championship since the 2006-2007 season.

“Mareik’s skill level is really high. He puts the ball on the floor very well, and also handles and passes the ball well. He can shoot the three and has a great mid-range game off the dribble,” Collier said. “He has great upside and could grow to be 6-7 or 6-8. You’re not going to find a better kid character-wise.”

Isom was an honor roll student at Bowie and showed how important academics are to him when he invited his eighth-grade math teacher Trudy Pzynski to attend his signing with UALR.

While UALR players don’t have to report to campus until the first week of July, Isom is attending the first session of summer school in Little Rock. That could help give him an edge in the weight room, where he needs to add strength.

Upside: He’s a really good shooter and at 6-6 will not have some of the difficulties faced by the seemingly endless line of 5-10 guards UALR has suited up in recent years. It’s difficult to find anyone like him in a long time at UALR.

Downside: He might not have been the best player on his high school team. Bowie’s Paul Baxter, who signed with Sam Houston State, was name the district MVP and defensive player of the year.

Outlook: Without a lot of depth at the forward positions, junior Will Neighbour could have to play more down there. That opens up minutes at the three spot and Isom figures to be in the competition for minutes there.

Next week: Josh Hagins

A really good story about UALR soph Michael Javes' background

One word that describes UALR sophomore Michael Javes is potential. He's got so much potential that Venezuela really wants him to one day play for its national team. And Web site Se Habla Basket ( writes and Tweets quite a bit about Javes.

Javes averaged 5.0 points and 4.2 rebounds per game as a freshman. But with added weight and strength, big things are expected of him this year.

Javes' international situation is a bit unique. He's from Cali, Columbia, which is where UALR lists his hometown. But his mother is Columbian and his father Venezuelan. It appears he'd like to play with Venezuela. But it's not that simple.

Here's a link to a story we've translated using Google Translate. As we've said before, these translations aren't perfect, but it gives you an idea. Make sure and scroll to the bottom to read the story from the Leader newspaper. Good stuff.

After you click this link, click the "Read More" tab on the story. It will open in the English translation.
Click Here

UALR's Derek Fisher and OKC try to go 2-up tonight

Former UALR guard Derek Fisher, in search of his sixth NBA Championship ring, will be on the court tonight as Oklahoma City takes on Miami in Game 2.

UALR signee Josh Hagins working out with Shreveport-area pros

Although the only newcomers to report so far are Mareik Isom and Stetson Billings, other future UALR Trojans are getting in their work at home. Here's a story from Shreveport that mention's signee Josh Hagins.

Former UALR guard Derek Fisher going for sixth championship ring

We've been enjoying all the Derek Fisher coverage as he prepares to go for his sixth NBA Championship. Here's another good one:

Eligibility doesn't appear to be an issue for UALR recruiting class

When writing about UALR's entire roster being on campus for summer workouts this year, we left out another reason for that. There appears to be no eligibility issues for any of the six.

Freshmen Mareik Isom, John Gillon, Josh Hagins, Stetson Billings, Andrew Poulter and Kemy Osse are scheduled to be on campus the first week of July to begin work with strength and conditioning coach John Barron.

It should also be noted that this is the first UALR signing class in many years that does not contain a junior college player.

Five questions with UALR signee Kemy Osse

We just stumbled on to this interview with UALR freshman signee Kemy Osse. It's in French but I've used Google Translate to translate it. Google Translate isn't perfect, but you get the idea of what Osse is saying. Enjoy!

Click here

With everyone present, this year's UALR team should have leg up in summer


This year’s UALR Trojans should have a leg up on last year’s version.
All roster players are expected to be on campus when players officially report during the first week of July. This is quite a difference from last year when various reasons kept several players away during the summer months.
This time is important because players are able to work on strength and conditioning with Coach John Barron. Last year’s summer wasn’t as productive due to a number of issues. To name a few, Will Neighbour was in Europe playing with Great Britain, Michael Javes had not been cleared and Ben Dillard was recovering from surgery.
That boost will be needed with six freshmen expected to report in Josh Hagins, John Gillon, Stetson Billings, Mareik Isom, Andrew Poulter and Kemy Osse.
UALR recovered from a slow start last season to win its fifth Sun Belt Conference division championship in nine seasons.
A few notes going into the summer:
  • Condolences to UALR Coach Steve Shields after the death of his father, Gene. Be sure and read this tribute to Gene written by Terrance Hill:
  • Will Neighbour’s recovery from shoulder surgery is progressing well. He’s doing some light shooting and appears to be on schedule (if not ahead of schedule) for his return. He is able to do lower body lifting during this time.
  • Signees Stetson Billings and Mareik Isom were the first of the new freshmen to arrive on campus. Also already in town are Taggart Lockhart, Neighbour and Michael Javes.
  • It's not yet clear what UALR will do with its remaining scholarship. The coaching staff appears to be on the lookout for a Division I transfer (fifth year senior) who might be eligible immediately and fits the team's needs. If that player doesn't surface, it's likely they'll hold on to it. That would keep it available for a mid-season transfer or to add to next year's class.
  • It appears Eric Lawton is transferring back closer to home. It’s unclear where Reggie Fondren might transfer to.

UALR yearly roster updated

Finally got around to updating UALR's yearly roster. This now includes the addition of freshman signee Kemy Osse and the departures of Eric Lawton, Reggie Fondren, Chuck Guy and Tre'Von Wilkerson.

Right now, UALR has one scholarship to give this year. Depending on who that goes to and who stays and goes, there might also be only one available scholarship next year.

UALR still working through 2012-2013 basketball schedule


The schedule will look dramatically different for the 2012-2013 UALR Trojans.
First, the Sun Belt Conference has gone to a 20-game, round robin format with every team playing home and home against every other team. That has cut down on the number of nonconference games needing to be scheduled.
UALR has only one remaining home-and-home series in progress with Tulsa. The Trojans will host Tulsa this season. Home-and-home series expired with Oral Roberts, Missouri State, Illinois State, SMU and Louisiana Tech.
UALR is expected play a one season home-and-home series with Louisiana Tech this year. The Trojans are also looking at playing in a Thanksgiving tournament that would have them host two games at the Jack Stephens Center in November and play two neutral court games elsewhere on Thanksgiving weekend. Some familiar teams could be participating there.
In order to make that work, UALR would have to pay guarantees to the two opponents it is hosting for that tournament. And in order to raise that money, UALR has put out the feelers on a couple of large guarantee games. UALR is also looking at buying one additional home game against a Division I opponent.

UALR has no scholarship seniors for 12-13 season

UALR will not have a scholarship senior on its roster for the 2012-2013 season.

Seniors to be Eric Lawton and Reggie Fondren have decided to transfer elsewhere for next season. Also departing is freshman walk-on point guard Tre'von Wilkerson, who redshirted last season.

It leaves UALR with six scholarship returnees and six incoming recruits, one short of the NCAA limit of 13 scholarship players.

Lawton averaged 2.9 points while playing nine minutes per game last season after transferring from junior college. He was used primarily as a back-up at point guard, which was not his natural position.

Fondren averages 1.8 points while playing eight minutes per game after also transferring from a junior college. His minutes increased in the middle of the season and he was a key in a road victory at North Texas to start Sun Belt Conference play. But his minutes dipped again late in the season.

UALR's lone senior next season is walk-on Ted Crass, who was activated late last year after serving as the team's manager in previous years. Here's how UALR's roster breaks down next year by class:

Senior: Ted Crass (WO)
Junior: Will Neighbour
Sophomores: Ben Dillard, Michael Javes, Gus Leeper and Taggart Lockhart
Freshmen: James White, Casey Wilmath (WO), John Gillon, Josh Hagins, Mareik Isom, Stetson Billings, Kemy Osse and Andrew Poulter.

UALR has only one junior college transfer on the roster in Neighbour. But he's not a typical juco player because he originally signed with UALR out of high school and had three years to play when he arrived at UALR.