Heath upbeat about Arkansas' hoops prospects

Updated: October 14, 2003, 10:51 PM ET

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Arkansas coach Stan Heath is upbeat -- and appears to have reason to be -- heading into his second season leading the Razorbacks.

His young team got a jump on practice and game experience by playing four games against semi-pro teams in Mexico over the Labor Day weekend, going 3-1, and Heath's first recruiting class, which was touted as among the best in the country, is on campus.

Another reason to be upbeat: it will be hard not to improve on last year's 9-19 showing.

"I'm really excited," Heath said Tuesday during the program's media day. "We have a good, young team. I guess 'cautiously optimistic' is a good way to phrase it."

Some of Heath's first recruits are expected to begin contributing immediately, including guard Ronnie Brewer, forward Vincent Hunter and McDonald's All-American forward Olu Famutimi.

The young team also has five sophomores who saw playing time last year, including forward Jonathan Modica, who led the team in scoring with 11.5 points per game. He is closely followed by guards Eric Ferguson and Kendrick Davis, who averaged 10.9 and 10.3 points per game respectively.

Heath gives the Razorbacks a "B" grade for off-season progress.

"We're ahead of the curve a little bit. Going to Cancun was good for our team, good for practicing and getting a feel for each other," he said. "But we're still behind in experience."

To make up for a lack of experience, Heath said, the team has speed, the ability to score and versatility. The team is deep on the perimeter, with nine players capable of playing guard. The frontcourt is an unknown.

Famutimi and Hunter are expected to play significant roles along with sophomore forward Rashard Sullivan, junior forward Michael Jones and redshirt senior forward Billy Pharis.

"Last year we struggled with inside scoring," Heath said. "I still don't think we've totally addressed that answer with a low-post scorer who can maybe be a go-to guy around the basket."

Another factor in Arkansas' favor is that Heath is no longer leading the team as a virtual stranger. Modica noted that last season, Heath was new to the players and they were new to him.

"We know what he expects. We know what we want. We don't want to go through what we went through last year. And we want to make the (NCAA) tournament," Modica said.

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