University of Arkansas at Little Rock men's basketball Coach Darrell Walker said he likes the makeup of his team this year, and that isn't just a blanket statement.
The Trojans were limited with underwhelming size and had to rely heavily on multiple freshmen in Walker's first season as head coach, which saw UALR finish 10-21 and 5-13 in the Sun Belt, tied for last in the league.
UALR men’s basketball schedule
Sunday;at Arkansas (exhibition);3 p.m.
Nov. 5;at Missouri State;7 p.m.
Nov. 10;at Illinois State;3 p.m.
Nov. 14;Southwest Baptist;6:30 p.m.
Nov. 17;at Central Arkansas;2 p.m.
Nov. 20;at Memphis;7 p.m.
Nov. 23;at NC State;Noon
Nov. 26;St. Francis;6:30 p.m.
Nov. 27;Alcorn State;6:30 p.m.
Nov. 30;East Tennessee State;2 p.m.
Dec. 7;at North Texas;TBA
Dec. 10;Tennessee State;6:30 p.m.
Dec. 19;at Louisiana-Monroe*;7 p.m.
Dec. 21;at Louisiana-Lafayette*;TBA
Jan. 2;Texas State*;6:30 p.m.
Jan. 4;UT Arlington*;2 p.m.
Jan. 6;Georgia Southern*;6:30 p.m.
Jan. 9;at Troy*;6 p.m.
Jan. 11;South Alabama*;4:30 p.m.
Jan. 16;at Coastal Carolina*;6 p.m.
Jan. 18;at Appalachian State*;3 p.m.
Jan. 22;Troy*;6:30 p.m.
Jan. 25;at South Alabama*;3 p.m.
Jan. 30;Coastal Carolina*;6:30 p.m.
Feb. 1;Appalachian State*;2 p.m.
Feb. 8;Arkansas State*;2 p.m.
Feb. 13;at Texas State*;7 p.m.
Feb. 15;at UT Arlington*;2 p.m.
Feb. 22;at Arkansas State*;4 p.m.
Feb. 27;Louisiana-Monroe*;6:30 p.m.
Feb. 29;Louisiana-Lafayette*;2 p.m.
Mar. 3;at Georgia State*;6 p.m.
*Sun Belt Conference game
Since then, Walker has engineered a substantial overhaul of the roster, adding four transfers in the offseason as well as multiple players with greater size and length on the perimeter.
"I do like that the skill level is higher with our guys," Walker said. "They're longer, they're more athletic, and they all can kind of handle the ball, initiate the offense. We don't have a team that's gonna be dominated by one guy handling the ball."
UALR returns eight players from last season's roster, including six with starting experience and two of their top three leading scorers. But there are also nine newcomers, among them a mix of freshmen, transfers and even one ex-team manager.
Junior guard Alsean Evans, junior forward Ruot Monyyong and junior center Admir Besovic all transferred in from junior colleges, and redshirt junior guard Ben Coupet Jr. was a late addition to the program in August, transferring from UNLV. UALR first-year assistant coach Preston Laird was on UNLV's staff the past three seasons while Coupet was there.
Coupet is immediately eligible this season after being granted a waiver Monday, according to a team spokesman. He saw very limited action at UNLV and redshirted his true sophomore season in 2017-18.
The Trojans will have much better interior size, too. UALR had one player on the 2018-19 active roster listed above 6-8. This season, the Trojans have four, including returning sophomore forward Nikola Maric (6-10), Monyyong (6-10), redshirt senior center Sam Dunkum (6-11) and Besovic (7-0).
Walker also is hoping a second year of his system and culture will pay dividends.
"Everybody was learning on the fly," Walker said of his first season. "This year, you got a few guys that have returned that's been in the system and know what we're gonna do offensively and defensively, so that's helped me and my staff coaching wise."
Said sophomore guard Markquis Nowell: "All the guys know [the system], so it's like a review. The system works ... if you do it with some pace, if you do it hard, you're gonna get good looks."
Replacing guard Rayjon Tucker, who led UALR in scoring last year averaging 20.3 points per game, poses a challenge. Walker believes filling his production will have to come through multiple players.
"I think overall, the guys that we have, if Rayjon averaged 20, I think that 20 points will be a [combination of] other players getting those points," Walker said.
And then there's the issue of turnovers, which was one of the biggest downfalls of the Trojans last season. UALR averaged 16.3 of them per game, which was the most in the Sun Belt. Walker said "there's no doubt in my mind we should've won 16 games" last season if not for the turnovers.
The Trojans, who've experienced three consecutive losing seasons, open the 2019-20 regular season Nov. 5 against Missouri State in Springfield, Mo.
But before that, Walker will get to measure his re-tooled squad against his alma mater, the University of Arkansas, at 3 p.m. Sunday in Fayetteville, when the Trojans and Razorbacks meet in a preseason exhibition game for charity.
"It's great going back home," Walker said, "but at the end of the day, these guys are tired of playing against each other every day in practice, and I'm sure most of [Arkansas Coach] Eric [Musselman]'s guys are tired of playing against each other every day. Now we get to go to real game officials, a crowd, you get a chance to see how your guys act under that situation, under duress.
"It's a win-win for both coaches, because after the game you can break film down and see what you really need to start concentrating and honing in on before you play your first game."
Sports on 10/16/2019
Print Headline: Walker good with UALR's additions