Meet UALR's freshmen basketball players in this BTH-TV interview

UALR has a huge incoming recruiting class this year. Among those players are six freshmen who will be playing college basketball for the first time.

Burn The Horse TV sat down with five of the six freshmen -- Josh Hagins, John Gillon, Mareik Isom, Stetson Billings and Andrew Poulter -- to see how things are going, what it's been like to work with UALR strength Coach John Barron, and what their roles might be.

Nicely done video by UALR showing improving campus life

We really dig this video a lot. It was done by UALR and shows the many ways UALR is becoming a more traditional campus. Good stuff!!!

Click Here

UALR freshman Isom on track to play this season

It appears freshman guard Mareik Isom is on track to play this season.

Isom, who has been limited throughout the summer due to a knee injury, is expected to be ready when practice begins in mid-October. His father, Kendall Isom, told Burn The Horse that the UALR medical staff wants to "hold him out of running and jumping for 1 more month then he should be ready."

In the mean time, Isom is continuing to shoot and work with strength and conditioning Coach John Barron.

Isom figures to play the 3 position for UALR, by far the deepest position on the roster.

Play in Sun Belt Tournament by Leeper shows promise for sophomore


There were a lot of folks who were disappointed last season when Gus Leeper suffered an injury and had to redshirt. Us included. After all, a lot was expected of the sophomore despite some pretty puny statistics.

A lot more will be expected this year as he repeats his sophomore year of eligibility with the Trojans.

Leeper a 6-10 forward from Austin, Texas, came on strong in the final month of the 2010-2011 season and is expected to be a vital contributor now that he’s healthy again.

The Leeper most people remember is the one who averaged 6 points and 3.5 rebounds over the past six games of the season. The one we tend to forget is the Leeper who had scored only 14 points in the 23 games prior to that.

After scoring 4 points (giving him 10 for the season) against Western Kentucky on Feb. 17, 2011, Leeper was thrown into the starting lineup on Feb. 19 against Middle Tennessee. The move came largely because Courtney Jackson was injured. Jackson would play only 3 more minutes the rest of the season. Leeper had 4 points and 5 rebounds that night and made an impression.

And when he wowed the Jack Stephens Center crowd with 11 points and 6 rebounds in a March 1 game vs. North Texas, he earned a spot in the starting lineup for the rest of the season.

But Leeper still didn’t score much until the Sun Belt Championship game. He had 10 points in 27 minutes that night as he helped UALR to the Sun Belt Tournament. And even though he only had 4 points and 5 rebounds in the NCAA Tournament game against UNC-Asheville, his foul-out was one of the key points in that contest.

The facts are that Leeper averaged only 1.7 points and 1.7 rebounds during his freshman season. The reality is that Leeper kepth working hard all season and eventually got a chance to shine on a big stage. And now with a strength-building redshirt year he has the potential to have a Sun Belt Tournament type impact during his sophomore year. 

UALR ranked 114th best men's basketball program all time

I really thought this was an interesting link posted on the Trojan Town message board.

It is an all-time ranking of college basketball programs. UALR was tied for 114th position. Without doing the math for a lot of schools, that's probably about right. UALR was fourth in the Sun Belt Conference, trailing Western Kentucky, South Alabama and Louisiana-Monroe. ULM was a Southland power back in the day.

But what strikes me as interesting is the conversation. I think many UALR fans were surprised to see the Trojans ranked that high on a list like this.

When I used to travel with the team I was always struck by how much more respected UALR's program was outside the state of Arkansas. When I mentioned I covered UALR I was frequently met with praise for the program. Much of that stemmed from back in the 1980s, when Mike Newell built it into a powerhouse. People do still remember the Notre Dame upset in 1986. People do remember the big-time success the program enjoyed then. I was a high school kid in St. Louis at the time with no ties to Arkansas whatsoever. But I can remember watching Newell and the Trojans on national TV.

While UALR hasn't been consistently as successful on that same level since then, it has remained in the spotlight. Wimp Sanderson brought some attention to UALR. Derek Fisher's NBA success has continued to build the brand. And you can't discount current Coach Steve Shields' six championships in nine seasons (five division titles and one tournament title).

But I think most locals overlook most of that. It's obvious when you look at attendance and overall support. And that really is a shame for all involved.

Learn a little more about UALR walk-on Michael Evans' game here

He averaged 11.7 points, 10 rebounds and 2.2 assists last season for Northark.

UALR adds Isler, Washington, Evans to roster

With the start of the fall semester on Thursday, UALR finalized its roster.

Updated classification chart

UALR formally announced junior college transfers Leroy Isler, Jalen Washington and Michael Evans. Isler is a scholarship player while Washington and Evans are walk-ons.

We previously told you about Isler and Washington. The news on that front is that Washington will redshirt this year.

Evans is a player we've heard a little bit of rumblings about this summer. He's 6-8 and will be a junior after spending the past two seasons at North Arkansas College. He's originally from Jacksonville.

Sun Belt commish Benson speaks out about basketball tourney in Hot Springs

What's the future of the Sun Belt Tournament in Hot Springs? Here's what new Sun Belt Conference commissioner Karl Benson had to say yesterday during a visit to Bowling Green, Ky.
"We are contracted through the 2014 season in Hot Springs and we certainly are prepared and ready to fulfill that obligation. Hot Springs has provided [four] years I believe of opportunities and tournament environment for Sun Belt fans and yet there’s always a time when you need to evaluate what’s in the best interest of the conference. I’ve been charged by Sun Belt presidents to go through an evaluation period that will probably take place over the next 6 to 8 to 9 months. Contractually, there needs to be conversation between the Sun Belt and Hot Springs following the 2013 season, which we will do to determine whether we extend that arrangement or look elsewhere for a site. I’ve been impressed. I was in Hot Springs. The facility is ideal and the organizing committee has embraced the tournament. But, again, I think there’s an obligation to see if there’s a better location.”

Sun Belt to switch to 18 game schedule; drops 150 RPI requirement

Somehow we missed this.

Here's a couple of highlights from that Associated Press story:
  • Sun Belt basketball teams will play an 18-game schedule next season (2013-14).
  • Each school will play the other five teams in its division home and home for 10 games.
  • Each school will play home-and-homes against four of the six teams in the other division for the other 8 games.
  • That means each school will not play two members at all next year.
Sun Belt teams are playing a full round robin 20-game schedule this year.

But here's equally big news:
A 2010 mandate that schools play non-conference games against teams that either had a three-year combined power rating in the top 150 or that finished in the RPI Top 150 the previous year was also ditched, with the focus shifting toward teams playing more home games, Benson said.

While former Commisioner Wright Waters pushed for the 150 scheduling mandate, coaches have pushed for more home games. Why? In college basketball, home teams win most of the time -- across the board.

Read more here:

Isler brings toughness on defense, experience to UALR lineup


UALR’s seventh signee of the 2012 class brings something a little different than anybody else on the roster.

Leroy Isler is a junior college transfer from Lee Junior College in Baytown, Texas. He’s a 6-5 guard/forward who plays a tough, physical style and isn’t afraid to try and lock down his opponent’s best guard.

Isler was a high school star at Boys and Girls in Brooklyn, N.Y., averaging 17.8 points and 13.7 rebounds. That landed him on the New York Daily News’ first team All-Star Team. About him, the Daily News said. “at times, played like a coach on the floor. Routinely guarded opponents’ top offensive threats and frequently hit big shots.”

UALR has searched for that type of player since the departure of John Fowler a few years ago. There are some other candidates on the roster now but no one who has proven they can do it consistently.

Out of high school he had offers from several schools throughout the northeast, including Fairfield, Hofstra, LIU-Brooklyn, Marist, Quinnipiac, Robert Morris, Siena and South Carolina State.

He ended up at Lee Junior College where he played the past two seasons. As a sophomore he averaged 11 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.7 steals. He shot 47 percent from the field, 36 percent from the three-point line and 58 percent from the free throw line.

He had to finish up course work this summer to graduate at Lee to make him eligible. That appears to have happened, clearing his path to UALR.

An update on where UALR stands with its basketball scholarships

Here's where we stand as far as UALR scholarships going forward:

Washington, Isler slated to play for UALR

We've tied up some loose ends and appear to have some answers.

Jalen Washington (left) and Leroy Isler (right).
Leroy Isler signed his grant-in-aid paperwork and appears headed to UALR as the 13th scholarship player. And Jalen Washington, who played one year at Kilgore Junior College and arrived on campus this week, is slated to be the Trojans' third walk-on.
If this is how it works out, Washington is a well above average walk-on candidate.

Isler is a 6-5 guard/forward from Brooklyn, N.Y. He played the past two seasons at Lee Junior College in Baytown, Texas, where he averaged 11 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 1.7 steals. He shot 47 percent from the field, 36 percent from three-point range and 58 percent from the free throw line.
Washington is 6-5 and can play all three guard positions. He was a big scorer in high school but averaged only 4.3 points per game as a freshman at Kilgore. He qualified late last summer and elected to spend one year at juco, making him eligible this season. He had offers late last summer from Mt. St. Mary’s and Southern-Baton Rouge. Internet reports suggested he was headed to Weber State this year. He played AAU ball for Texas D1 Ambassadors, the same program as UALR freshman Josh Hagins.

Isler, who will be a junior, and Washington, who will be a sophomore, will join the largest recruiting class in UALR history. It includes six freshmen in Josh Hagins, John Gillon, Mareik Isom, Andrew Poulter, Stetson Billings and Kemy Osse.

Players are retuning to campus right now with classes scheduled to start on Thursday.

New UALR additions arriving. Who and how they fit in remains a mystery


It appears there will be roster additions at UALR this week. But just who those additions are remains a mystery.

UALR classes are scheduled to begin Thursday and we’ll wait with anticipation to see who is registered.

What we know is that UALR has one open scholarship to give. What we don’t know is who is getting it. But it does appear it’s going to someone.

On July 21, Web site Tweeted the following:
“Former Boys & Girls star Leroy Isler to Arkansas-Little Rock as per Kangaroos asst. coach.”
It was past the National Letter of Intent deadline so Isler apparently signed a grant in aid form. That is something that frequently happens in the summer. We had heard Isler’s name mentioned, so this didn’t come as a huge surprise.

Isler is a 6-5 guard/forward from Brooklyn, N.Y. He played the past two seasons at Lee Junior College in Baytown, Texas, where he averaged 11 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 1.7 steals. He shot 47 percent from the field, 36 percent from three-point range and 58 percent from the free throw line.

Then this week another name popped up on Twitter when another juco player said he was coming to UALR. Jalen Washington, who played high school basketball at Pflugerville Henderson in Texas, and spent the past season at Kilgore Junior College, tweeted that he was:
“Blessed to have another place to call home.” 
And he included an Instagram photo of the sign at the entrance to the UALR campus. He confirmed in other tweets that he was headed to UALR this year.

Washington is 6-5 and can play all three guard positions. He was a big scorer in high school but averaged only 4.3 points per game as a freshman at Kilgore. He qualified late last summer and elected to spend one year at juco, making him eligible this season. He had offers late last summer from Mt. St. Mary’s and Southern-Baton Rouge. Internet reports suggested he was headed to Weber State this year. He played AAU ball for Texas D1 Ambassadors, the same program as UALR freshman Josh Hagins.
No idea how he fits in to the scholarship plans.

We’ve also heard there are two other potential walk-ons headed to campus this week. They would be in addition to current walk-ons Ted Crass and Casey Wilmath.

On Thursday when classes begin, we’ll know for sure.

Update. Washington just sent out this photo via Instagram with the tag "Boy I can't wait"

Update #2: Mystery solved.

UALR's Dillard poised to make leap during sophomore season


Ben Dillard had a nice debut as a freshman for UALR.

Dillard played in all 31 games, averaging more than 14 minutes per game. He shot 40 percent from the field, 43 percent from three-point range and 85 percent from the free-throw line. 

But Dillard only averaged 4.7 points per game.

With increased minutes and responsibility this season will come bigger expectations for Dillard as a sophomore. We saw plenty to like of him as a freshman and it appears he’s poised to make that move in his second season with the Trojans.

UALR freshman Billings adding strength necessary to compete in Sun Belt


When Strong’s 6-5 guard Stetson Billings committed to UALR last fall, we all thought that was a solid pickup.

He’s an Arkansas kid who played for the Arkansas Wings in AAU ball. He’s a good shooter, effective defender and hard worker. All solid reasons to like him.

Then came a mid-January night. Billings’ line: 57 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists in an 89-65 victory over Bearden. FYI, Bearden was playing a box-and-1.

Those 57 points got the attention of a lot of folks in the region. Billings has improved every year. He averaged 18 points and 8 rebounds as a sophomore, 22 points and 14 rebounds as a junior and 31 points and 12 rebounds last season.

“Stetson is a young man that if I was a college coach I would have been here recruiting him,” Strong-Huttig Coach Anthony Avery said. “He’s 6-5, but can play at the 1, 2 or 3. He’s long-armed and jumps well. He makes everyone around him play harder because that’s what he brings to the game. He gets everyone involved and is a leader on the floor. I wish I had 15 of him on my team.”

Again, that’s all good. But this is what potentially makes him a big-time player in the Sun Belt.

“Stetson is a long, rangy player who can really defend. In time, he could be someone we assign to guard our opponent’s best perimeter scorer night-in and night-out,” UALR Coach Steve Shields said. “He is a very good rebounder at both ends of the floor and really reminds me of a young John Fowler, who was the 2009 Sun Belt defensive player of the year. Stetson is a very tough player who is not afraid to mix it up.”

This is how Billings sizes up his own game: “I’m really a versatile player. I can play in the inside, play outside. I like to take the mid-range jump shot. I’m trying to increase my skills at taking the jump shot off the dribble. I get rebounds. I’ll hold the best player if you need me to. Whatever Coach wants.”

Billings fits into the mix at the 2 and 3 positions for UALR this season. Junior Will Neighbour and sophomore Taggart Lockhart both played the majority of the minutes at the 3 last season.

“My goals are just to come in and help wherever I can. Just to work hard in every position,” Billings said.
It is interesting to hear Billings talk about improving his mid-range game. That is the very thing ESPN downgraded him for when they rated him an 83 as a recruit. ESPN: “As much as we value his stroke and decent ability to leap, we’d like to see diversity in his game. Can he develop a mid-range pull-up? Will he be a guy who can get to the paint? These are two questions we have in evaluating him.”

Billings was among the first of the newcomers to report and has spent the summer gaining much-needed strength with Coach John Barron.

“It’s been going pretty good. I love it here. I like working out with Coach Barron. I’m just trying to get stronger and bigger,” said Billings, who reported at 174 pounds and is now at 190. “I always tried to gain weight but it seemed like I never could. I’m very excited. It encourages me a lot to keep working to get bigger and stronger.”

Upside: Above average shooter and defender and hard-worker on the court.

Downside: Needs to get stronger and prove he can hit the pull-up jumper with consistency.

Outlook: Billings figures to get a pretty good look this season, whether at the 2 or the 3 position (or both).

Lockhart puts work in, could surprise as UALR sophomore

Sophomore Taggart Lockhart is a wildcard for UALR this season.

Lockhart had a decent freshman season while playing with a knee injury. But more is expected of him with improved health and maturity as a sophomore.

Lockhart started 14 of the 29 games he played in last season, averaging 3.4 points and 2.4 rebounds. The fact that Lockhart played 15.5 minutes a game is a tribute to the way he competed. But to justify more minutes this season, Lockhart is going to have to score more. He reached double figures only twice as a freshman, shooting 37 percent from the field and 24 percent from the three-point line.

But in talking to his UALR teammates, Lockhart may be poised for a breakout year. They say he’s put in the time in the spring and summer and will be a force as a sophomore.

Junior Will Neighbour played a lot of minutes down the stretch at the 3 last season. And with James White and potentially new freshman in the mix at the 3 this season, Lockhart will face additional challenges for his playing time as a sophomore.

In this BTH-TV exclusive, watch Lockhart talk about last season and this season and the impact he might have.

UALR freshman James White bulks up, works way into the mix for Trojans

The UALR men's basketball roster says James White is a freshman. But he's come a long way in the year he's been on campus in Little Rock.

White, 6-7, played only five minutes last season before an injury forced him to redshirt. That turned out to be the best thing for him. White used his time wisely and bulked up from 177 to 215 pounds. That added weight and strength will allow him an opportunity to play both inside and out.

He's a good shooter who teammates say is a physical "freak" on the basketball court. In this BTH-TV exclusive, White talks about redshirting last season, what he expects from this season and what it's like to be a veteran player on campus.

UALR's Joe Kleine talks about winning a gold medal

Watch UALR assistant coach Joe Kleine talk about winning the 1984 Olympic Gold medal.

Click here to watch


Watch for UALR's Joe Kleine tonight on KARK 4

This from the UALR Twitter account @UALRathletics. KARK-TV 4's Deedra Wilson will interview UALR assistant Coach Joe Kleine tonight at 5 p.m. In this photo, you see Coach Kleine, with his 1984 Olympic Gold Medal, being interviewed by Wilson.

Neighbour, Isom still limited as UALR preps for fall practices

Mareik Isom

As UALR wrapped up summer workouts this week there were three players not fully participating in drills.

Freshman guard Kemy Osse was the only player not here during the summer. He’s expected to arrive when players report back for the fall semester.

Junior Will Neighbour is still recovering from shoulder surgery. He has been able to participate in conditioning and shooting drills, but has sat out when contact drills are going on.

“The recovery is coming really good right now,” Neighbour said. “I’ve been working everyday with [trainer Michael Switlik] and [strength Coach John Barron]. Right now, I’m just getting a lot stronger. I can’t do contact for another two to three months. But I’ve been shooting and doing everything I can. It’s starting to feel good and stronger than it’s ever been before.”

More perplexing is freshman guard Mareik Isom, who has had to miss workouts due to a sleeve fracture of the patella in his knee. At this point he has to stay off of it and hope for the best, but it does put his 2012-2013 season in doubt if it doesn’t heal properly.

“I’ve got to wait for something to close up near my tendon so I won’t need surgery,” Isom said. “The plan is to still go. But the worst-case scenario is that I have to get surgery when we come back from break. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that. Hopefully they’ll clear me.”

Isom is a 6-6 guard who averaged 16.5 points last year for Austin (Texas) Bowie High School, where he was named all-district, all-region and to the All-CenTex team.

Fall classes begin Aug. 23.

UALR wraps up summer workouts; ready to begin individual workouts this month

Nice update on UALR's summer workouts from UALR Sports Information. It includes a pretty lenthy quote from Coach Steve Shields. It starts like this:

"I think the biggest positive this summer was that we had guys on campus. Last summer we had a lot of factors that came into play which prevented guys from being on campus during the final summer session, be it injuries, academics or prior commitments. We had a handful of guys here last summer that were able to take advantage of that time to get stronger, but we didn't have our whole team here and that put us behind where we needed to be as fall practice started."

Read the rest by clicking HERE.

UALR senior walk-on Ted Crass taking on leadership role with young Trojans

UALR senior guard Ted Crass has a unique perspective heading into the 2012-2013 season.

Crass spent the majority of his time as UALR's top manager under Coach Steve Shields. He continued to work hard, not only at his job but at his basketball skills, and Shields rewarded him late last season by elevating him to walk-on.

Now, he's UALR's only senior on what will be a very young team. It might be difficult for a senior walk-on to be a team leader, but Crass isn't a typical senior or walk-on. He knows what the coaching staff expects out of the players. And he's doing everything he can to get the Trojans back to the NCAA Tournament.

ADG: UALR bids to host 2014 or 2015 NCAA Tournament

Robert Yates of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporting via Twitter that UALR has bid to host the 2nd and 3rd rounds of the 2014 or 2015 NCAA men's tournament at Verizon Arena. Here's his tweet.

Darting joins UALR staff as Director of Basketball Operations

Welcome to Kerry Darting who joined the UALR men's basketball staff today.

Darting is the new Director of Basketball Operations and replaces Chris Lowry, who held the same position two different times under UALR Coach Steve Shields.

Darting spent the previous five seasons at Illinois State, where he was the Director of Basketball Operations on Tim Jankovich's staff.

"Kerry brings a wealth of experience to the position, comes from a coaching family and understands the profession," Shields said in a release. "I know he's eager to get started, and we're anxious to get him here. Every operations position differs from staff to staff, but they all have the same core, and the fact that he has five years of experience in that role will be a huge benefit to our program."

Darting played college basketball at NCAA Division II Missouri-Rolla after starting school at Kansas State.

His duties at UALR include overseeing student-athlete academics and living arrangements, team travel, video exchange, and outreach programs.

Lowry left UALR earlier in the summer to become an assistant coach at Cleburne High School in Texas.

UALR's Will Neighbour talks Olympics and the future of Great Britain Basketball

We spent some time out at UALR last week and taped several interviews. Here's a portion of the first one. This is UALR junior forward Will Neighbour talking about missing out on a chance to play in the Olympics due to injury, the impact of the Olympics on Great Britain and how the Olympics might impact the future of British Basketball.

UALR nonconference schedule features six home, three road, two neutral games

The UALR basketball schedule was released this afternoon. Check it out here:

There are a couple of interesting facts about the schedule. UALR has bought three guarantee games this season. The first comes in the season opener against Tennessee-Martin. The other two come as part of the Hoops For Hope Classic in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. UALR will host Jacksonville and Wisconsin-Milwaukee in two games at the Jack Stephens Center.

In order to pay for those games, UALR is playing two guarantee games. The Trojans will return to Ole Miss of the SEC this year after playing a home-and-home with the Rebels a few years back. And UALR will travel to Cincinnati of the Big East Conference.

The only remaining home-and-home series on the schedule was Tulsa and it wraps up with a game at UALR this year. UALR is also playing an in-season home-and-home with Louisiana Tech. UALR and Louisiana Tech have played in each of the past five years.

UALR will also host Oklahoma's St. Gregory's University for its other home game, the only non-Division I game on the schedule.

Rounding out the schedule are the games in Mexico. UALR will play SMU in its opener and then will play either South Carolina or Missouri State in the second game.

UALR's only true road games in nonconference play will be Ole Miss, Louisiana Tech and Cincinnati.

The biggest change in conference play is the 20-game Sun Belt schedule. That means UALR hosts Troy on Nov. 29 in an early start to conference play.