As a player on a Southeastern Conference rival, John Pelphrey had to overcome Arkansas’ fast-paced style. Now he’ll be running it.
Pelphrey makes his debut as coach for the No. 19 Razorbacks as they kick off the season against Wofford on Friday night.
Pelphrey played at Kentucky from 1988-92, often facing a running Razorbacks team led by coach Nolan Richardson. Arkansas is now back in the AP poll for the first time since 2000, when Richardson was still in charge.
The new coach was hired in April in an effort part to bring back the kind of energy that has been missing from the team since Nolan Richardson left in 2002. Pelphrey, who coached at South Alabama the past five seasons, said athletic director Frank Broyles appeared to want to bring in a more up-tempo style.
“He made a point of that,” Pelphrey said. “Coach Richardson, obviously his style of play - there was no doubt what was going on there with the pressure and the extending of the floor and the fast pace. … Coach Broyles, I think, his mind eye for the way he would like for things to be would be some sort of up-tempo, pressure defense-type of situation.”
The 39-year-old Pelphrey is taking over for Stan Heath, who was fired after going 21-14 last season and losing in the first round of the NCAA tournament. He inherits a strong core of talent from that team, as all five starters return led by sharp-shooting Patrick Beverley.
The sophomore guard averaged a team-high 13.9 points per game last season to win SEC newcomer of the year honors. Swingman Sonny Weems was second on the team with 11.8 points per game.
Arkansas’ frontcourt is also loaded, with seven-foot senior Steven Hill, Charles Thomas and Darian Townes. Hill led the team with 2.8 blocks per game while Thomas and Townes combined to average 18.8 points and 10.0 rebounds.
There aren’t many glaring holes in the Razorbacks’ lineup, so Pelphrey will focus on attitude and implementing his system.
“First and foremost, can we play hard in this style of play? Do we have an understanding of what that means, and can we get that done every single possession?” Pelphrey said. “You’re talking about starting at the very basic of existence in terms of being a good basketball team.”
His first challenge is a Wofford team that relied heavily on 3-pointers last season en route to a 10-20 record.
Coached by Mike Young, the Terriers made a school-record 297 shots from beyond the arc in 2006-07. The old record was 240, set in 2002-03.
Shane Nichols led Wofford with 15.6 points per game last season, shooting 42.3 percent (85-for-201) from 3-point range. The senior guard also shot 82.1 percent from the free-throw line.
Nichols is one of three starters returning for the Terriers. Backcourt mate Drew Gibson averaged 12.8 points and a team-high 2.3 steals per game, while Tyler Whatley started all 30 games and averaged 5.7 rebounds in the frontcourt.
Wofford was selected to finish third in the Southern Conference’s South Division by the coaches and media.
This is the first-ever meeting between the schools.