Razorbacks head to Mexico seeking experience

Updated: August 29, 2003, 5:59 PM ET

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Having the opportunity to pick up 10 days of practice and four exhibition games before Midnight Madness in October couldn't have come at a better time for Arkansas.

Stan Heath's second Arkansas team will have five sophomores, four freshmen and two upperclassmen who haven't played in a year. The Razorbacks, 9-19 in Heath's first season, left for Cancun, Mexico, on Friday for a Labor Day weekend full of games.

"When it comes to October, we won't be just be thrown into the fire," said Ronnie Brewer Jr., one of the freshmen. "We'll have some practices, a little bit of experience. We're not going down there for fun, it's business. We're going to try to win some games, learn some stuff and hopefully be a better team when we come back."

On Saturday, Arkansas will face Belize Teane at 9 a.m. and Cahuameros de Quintana Roo at 6:30 p.m. Both games will be in Cancun. The Razorbacks meet Orange Walk Belize at 6 p.m. on Sunday in Playa Del Carmen, before waking up early on Monday for a 9 a.m. tipoff in Cancun against La Salle -- a Mexican university, not the one in Philadelphia.

Arkansas will be playing the games in small gymnasiums, some with no air conditioning, using FIBA rules. The different rules will be a trapezoid lane and a longer 3-point line, two things the NCAA is considering, and a 30-second shot clock.

It won't be a beach trip for the Razorbacks, because there won't be time. Learning how to play together will be the only mission.

The nine returning players started working out on Aug. 20 and the freshmen joined practice when school started on Monday.

"Right now, when I look at our team, it seems like we're already in November form compared to being in August," Heath said.

The freshmen raised the intensity level at practice when they arrived this week.

Brewer and Olu Famutimi add scoring ability to a team that ranked last in the Southeastern Conference with 61.6 points per game. They and 6-foot-9 forward Vincent Hunter will challenge for starting roles. Returning players aren't guaranteed anything just because they were here last year.

"I'm coming in just like I did last year, trying to do all I can to help this team win," said sophomore guard Jonathan Modica, who led the team at 11.5 points per game. "I want to be the go-to guy, but mostly I just want to win games.

"They're a talented group of players coming in. Ronnie can do a lot of things, Olu is very athletic ... and Vincent is the biggest surprise of them all. I think he's going to be a special player some day."

Besides the freshmen, senior guard Charles Tatum is returning from a redshirt year while he rehabilitated his right knee and senior forward Billy Pharis sat out last year after transferring from SMU.

Tatum played for former coach Nolan Richardson, but the only others from his era are junior forward Michael Jones and senior guard Jamar Blackmon, a former walk-on.

Sophomore forward Wenbos Mukubu will not play on the trip after he pulled a quadriceps muscle in his left leg. Sophomore guard Kendrick Davis sprained his left ankle on the first day of practice with the freshmen this week, but he returned to practice and should play in Mexico.

Davis was one of three freshmen who averaged 10 points per game last year.

The team will return to Arkansas on Monday after its morning game.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index

SPONSORED HEADLINES

MORE MEN'S COLLEGE BASKETBALL HEADLINES

MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM