UALR men have sights set high

University of Arkansas-Little Rock Coach Darrell Walker looks up at the scoreboard at halftime of the game against Southern Illinois University Edwardsville at the Jack Stephens Center in Little Rock on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. See more photos at Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock men's basketball team overhauled its roster during the offseason. On Thursday, the Trojans met with the media before practice to discuss the outlook for the upcoming season as they look to improve off a disappointing 2022-23 campaign.

"We got nine new players and I'm excited about this year that's coming up," Coach Darrell Walker said. "We're older. We got some athleticism. We got some length like I had my second year when we won the Sun Belt. I'm fired up about this basketball team."

Little Rock native Khalen "KK" Robinson, Makhel Mitchell and Bradley Douglas are among several key transfers Walker has brought into the program to bolster the roster.

Robinson spent last year at Texas A&M but was hampered by injuries. He started his collegiate career at the University of Arkansas after being one of the most sought after recruits in the country coming out of high school.

"When KK is out there playing and practicing, he looks like a top-40 player which he was some years ago," Walker said.

If Robinson can stay healthy, he provides a legitimate threat in the backcourt that is lacking experience.

Mitchell comes over from the University of Arkansas, where he averaged 3.6 points and 3.2 rebounds last season. At 6-foot-10, his length and athleticism will be a matchup issue for opponents across the Ohio Valley Conference.

"Makhel is an SEC center that knows how to play," Walker said. "Good basketball player. Physical. I think he can average a double-double."

As one of the most coveted junior college transfer prospects, Douglas entered the fold after being named an NJCAA All-American last season at Florida Southwestern State. He scored in doubles figures 18 times last season, and after struggling to score year ago UALR would benefit if he's able to continue that trend.

While the roster is made up mostly of new faces, DeAntoni Gordon will be back for UALR after being named second-team All-Ohio Valley a season ago. His 13.7 points a game last year led the Trojans.

"I got some guys that can put the ball in the basket," Walker said. "I also got some guys that are gritty like I was as a basketball player."

With a nonconference schedule that is much less grueling than last season's, Walker hopes that will give the team time to gel as a unit and build confidence as they prepare for conference play.

"I want us to be solid every night defensively," Walker said of the nonconference slate. "I want us to rebound the basketball and not turn the basketball over. At the end of the day, let's be honest, it's all about winning the OVC. But you got to get prepared to win the OVC and I think we have a really good, balanced schedule."

Walker's is optimistic ahead of the Trojans' season-opener, set for Nov. 6 at home against Texas State. He expressed confidence in his transfers based on their previous experience.

"The newcomers are new, but they are older guys," Walker said. "They know how to play. My coaching has been a lot easier. This team is older, they're physical, they're talented. Still a long season. We'll win some, we'll lose some, but we're going to be a very good basketball team."