Arkansas greets Anderson during opening practice
There was no mistaking the loudest ovation inside Bud Walton Arena on Friday night.
With Arkansas' players already at midcourt, Mike Anderson walked back onto the court he called home as an assistant coach for 17 seasons under former coach Nolan Richardson.
Only this time it was Anderson's turn in charge - leading Arkansas onto the court for its first practice of the preseason. And just as he was met with a standing ovation from Arkansas fans at his introduction in March, Anderson was greeted with a similar show of support from the estimated 5,000 who attended ''Primetime at the Palace.''
Arkansas will begin its preseason in earnest with two practices on Saturday, but it treated the Razorbacks' long-awaiting faithful with a 20-minute scrimmage and dunk contest.
However, the action on the court was almost secondary to the hope of a return to the ''40 Minutes of Hell'' style made famous by Richardson and practiced by Anderson in stops at Alabama-Birmingham and Missouri.
''How many fans in here are ready to play some Hog ball?'' Anderson asked the crowd. ''Get ready, get ready.''
Arkansas lured Anderson away from Missouri in March with a 7-year contract worth $2.2 million annually. He has said repeatedly since that the decision was about returning to where he calls home, something he reiterated to the crowd.
''There's no other place I'd rather be,'' Anderson said.
While Anderson has spent much of the offseason selling hope, the program is far from the same one he left after Richardson was fired in 2002. The Razorbacks, who won the 1994 national championship and finished as runners-up a year later, have been through two coaches (Stan Heath and John Pelphrey) since then and have missed the NCAA tournament the last three seasons.
Pelphrey was 69-59 in four seasons at Arkansas, finishing 18-13 last season. However, he was unable to galvanize a once-passionate fan base - with attendance falling from an average of 17,148 Pelphrey's first season to 12,022 last season in the 19,200-seat arena.
Anderson has traveled the state throughout the offseason in an attempt to rekindle that passion. He continued to do so before Friday's scrimmage, encouraging the crowd to attend games and participate as he tries to get the Razorbacks ''back on the top.''
He's sold hope through the up-tempo style of play that Richardson made famous and also through a group of four highly touted freshmen - BJ Young, Hunter Mickelson, Ky Madden and Devonta Abron - who saw their first public action on Friday.
Young won the dunk contest and scored 10 points for the Red team during the scrimmage. Freshmen led their respective teams in scoring - Mickelson with 12 and Madden with 11 - and the four combined to score 39 of the 81 points in the Red team's 44-37 win.
''I think the freshmen did pretty good, but the seniors helped us out from the summertime to now,'' Young said. ''The seniors and older guys just carried us along and helped us with everything we need.''
Young said he was surprised by the number of fans for the practice, and he was already looking forward to larger crowds in the future.
''I think we can fill it up,'' Young said.
After the practice, Anderson told the Razorbacks to enjoy the rest of their night. He said there wouldn't be much enjoyment during Saturday's practice.
''It's gonna be rough,'' Mickelson said. ''Coach Anderson said this is gonna be the last night of fun for a couple of days.
''... It's gonna be pretty rough, but it will be good for us.''