Marshawn Powell had an eye-opening welcome in his return to practice for the first time since tearing the ACL in his right knee last November.
The Arkansas forward took the court with his teammates last week in preparation for a preseason 10-day trip to Italy, beginning Friday. He quickly discovered that all of his rehabilitation hadn’t quite prepared him for one of coach Mike Anderson’s practices.
”I couldn’t even make it past half court I was so tired,” Powell said.
The Razorbacks will play four games against European competition on the trip, which will feature contests against teams from Italy and Lithuania. Anderson hopes the earlier-than-usual start to the season will help Arkansas improve on an 18-14 record in his first season, a season in which the Razorbacks lost nine of their final 12 games and missed the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight year.
Many of Arkansas’ hopes this season lie with the return of a healthy Powell, who was a preseason second-team All-Southeastern Conference pick last season as a sophomore after averaging 14.9 points as a freshman.
The 6-foot-7 Powell was off to a quick start last season, averaging 19.5 points on 71.4 percent shooting in the Razorbacks first two games, but he injured his knee in practice and missed the rest of the season. He has taken part in all of Arkansas’ practices in preparation for the trip, and Anderson said, ”So far, so good.”
”It’s good just to see him out on the floor,” Anderson said. ”. . . He means a lot to our team.”
Anderson said Powell will see action in Italy, though he hasn’t decided exactly how much. Regardless, his teammates have welcomed him back with open arms.
”It makes everybody feel great, kind of like feeling like a complete team,” sophomore Hunter Mickelson said. ”We have everybody here and he’s playing hard, which makes everyone else play hard.”
The 6-foot-10 Mickelson provided Powell with a welcome-back present of his own during practice last week, an elbow to the face that had Powell sporting several stitches over his left eye on Thursday. The two are expected to lead the frontcourt for an Arkansas team that returns seven players from last season, including leading scorer BJ Young.
Young, who averaged 15.3 points last season as a freshman, said he has never been outside the United States and is looking forward to his first trip overseas. The Razorbacks begin in Milan and will also visit the Italian Alps as well as Rome while playing games against Italian clubs Amici del Campetto, Mentenegro Selezione and an Italian all-star squad. They’ll also face Lithuanian Atletas Kaunas in Florence.
Arkansas could add as many as nine new players to its roster by the time the season starts. Oklahoma State transfer Fred Gulley must sit out the first semester, and Houston transfer Alandise Harris is awaiting word on his appeal to the NCAA for immediate eligibility.
”It’s been great being here with the team and getting a bond a lot earlier in the season than most teams would at this point, just getting to know the freshmen and the new players,” Young said. ”(With) them getting to know the system a lot earlier, I think that will be an advantage for us later on in the year.”
Anderson has experience with such a preseason trip, having traveled to Canada during his time as the coach at Missouri, and he relishes the early work with the Razorbacks as they prepare for his second season as coach.
”They’ve worked hard, and I want this to be their reward,” Anderson said. ”I want it to be fun. Obviously, you always play to win, but I want our guys to enjoy this experience. This is kind of a rare, once-in-a-life opportunity for some of these guys.”