FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) -John Pelphrey's first season at Arkansas is about more than Xs and Os.
``I just really believe in my heart of hearts here with this basketball team ... that we've got to make sure that our attitude is in the right place,'' Pelphrey said. ``That we are focused on the team, that we have honor and respect there among the team.''
Pelphrey was hired as Arkansas' coach in April after Stan Heath was fired. The Razorbacks went to the NCAA tournament the last two seasons, so a foundation for success is in place. Now, Pelphrey hopes to build on that, starting Friday night when No. 19 Arkansas opens the season against Wofford.
In an interview this week with The Associated Press, Pelphrey talked about returning the Hogs to national prominence.
``The reason I'm hesitant with the word 'change' is that sometimes it gives off a negative connotation, and that's the last thing I want to do,'' Pelphrey said. ``I think that what coach Heath did here was success. I think he had a level of success. ... We are fortunate - if we're able to capitalize on our talent and our experience.''
There's certainly plenty of that in Fayetteville right now. The Razorbacks return five starters from 2006-07, including sharp-shooting guard Patrick Beverley. That's why Pelphrey has them in the Top 25 before coaching a single game.
Pelphrey has a chance to be an immediate hit at Arkansas. He was hired a week after Dana Altman's unusual reversal. Altman took the Arkansas job, then changed his mind and went back to Creighton.
When Pelphrey was hired, he was quick to stress his respect for the Arkansas program. He used to play at Kentucky, so he has ties to the Southeastern Conference.
Pelphrey has also talked openly of bringing an up-tempo style to the Razorbacks. Arkansas won the 1994 national title under Nolan Richardson playing a fast-paced, entertaining brand of basketball. Pelphrey said athletic director Frank Broyles appeared to want something similar when looking for a new coach.
``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.''
Pelphrey does have an offensive philosophy beyond fast breaks. He says fans can expect a lot of pick-and-rolls, and he has an interesting way of prioritizing shot selection.
``The best shot for us is a free throw. Our next-best shot's a layup. The next-best shot's a rhythm 3,'' Pelphrey said. ``The last thing we want to take is a long 2 - a challenged jumpshot.''
Yes, Pelphrey says a free throw is preferable to a layup, in part because if you shoot enough of them, the other team will be in foul trouble.
``The best shot for us is a free throw,'' Pelphrey repeated. ``That means we obviously executed. We got a chance now to take a shot without anybody guarding us, and the clock is stopped.''
Pelphrey coached at South Alabama the past five seasons. He played for Kentucky under Eddie Sutton - also a former Arkansas coach - and Rick Pitino. He was an assistant under current Florida coach Billy Donovan.
Pelphrey counts those three among his top influences, and he has also been in touch with Richardson.
``I've talked to him a few times,'' Pelphrey said. ``As a player and a coach, I've always admired him. ... His teams were just very tough and physical. Who can't respect the winning? I thought it pretty cool to be able to call him and just to listen to him.''
Pelphrey played at Kentucky while Richardson was at Arkansas. In fact, his college career ended with one of the most memorable games in NCAA tournament history. He was standing a few feet from Christian Laettner when the Duke star made his famous buzzer-beater against Kentucky in the 1992 regional finals.
``The throw and catch from Grant Hill to Christian Laettner is still the most mind-boggling thing,'' Pelphrey said. ``He was really the only guy that had a chance of catching that ball. The rest of those guys were the same size as we were, but he was like some big kid in the playground.
``It took forever for the horn to sound,'' he added. ``I couldn't believe how long it took. I kept waiting and waiting and waiting, and it was the longest 2.1 seconds in history. I mean, once he got it off, you're like, 'Ah, that's going in.'''
Fifteen years later, Pelphrey is at Arkansas, one of Kentucky's top SEC rivals. He's working for the Razorbacks instead of playing against them - but that's an idea he's become comfortable with.
``I do feel very fortunate to be the coach at Arkansas,'' he said. ``I'm excited to have a chance to coach these young men. They have been receptive to what we've been trying to get across.''

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