Arkansas signs three centers

Updated: November 12, 2003, 8:58 PM ET
Associated Press

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Stan Heath has found his big men, three of them to be exact.

Arkansas' second-year basketball coach pulled in another stalwart class Wednesday, with Al Jefferson from Mississippi, one of the nation's top recruits, leading the way.

"I guess in some ways you could look at (Jefferson) as the jewel, the headline guy of this recruiting class," Heath said. "He's a man-child. He's hard to handle. He's got a chance to command double-teams and triple-teams and really open up the floor for other teammates."

Jefferson, a 6-foot-9, 265-pound center, faxed his paperwork after Heath had already addressed the media on 6-11 center Steven Hill of Branson, Mo., and 6-10 center Darian Townes from Alexandria, Va.

A fourth big man, Charles Thomas from Jackson, Miss., is expected to be made official later this week. Wednesday was the first day high school seniors could sign early with colleges.

Heath ran out on the Bud Walton Arena floor with Jefferson's fax in hand to spread the news about the signee he said could play for the Razorbacks right now.

The exuberance could be short-lived, depending on whether or not Jefferson ever plays for Arkansas or if he's just here for a year. There's talk of Jefferson choosing to enter the NBA draft after this year.

"Obviously, there's talk of what he's going to be doing next year," Heath said. "Those are questions that are going to be answered down the road. If there's a great opportunity in front of him, we'll support him in that and Arkansas won't stand in his way.

"But at the same time, he's planning on being at Arkansas and we're planning on having him. He has a chance to be a tremendous impact for us right away."

Sophomore guard Jonathan Modica asked Jefferson during the summer if he planned on going to college.

"I can only go by what he told me and he told me he was going to come," Modica said. "He said he didn't plan on staying for long, but he was really sincere about coming.

"If he has a chance to go make a lot of money, you have to be happy for him. But we want him to come here so we can try to win a national championship, also."

Jefferson, who chose Arkansas over Alabama, highlights a class expected to fill in what the Razorbacks have lacked for several years -- talented big men who can score and play dominating defense.

The new class is expected to blend well with the past two classes, which are dominated by guards. Modica and point guard Eric Ferguson are sophomores, while this year's freshmen class includes guards Ronnie Brewer and Olu Famutimi and 6-9, 215-pound forward Vincent Hunter.

Jefferson averaged 37 points, 18 rebounds and six blocks a game as a junior to lead Prentiss, Miss., to a state championship. Heath said he spoke with Jefferson early this week and that his new star was feeling bad after a loss in which he scored 33 points, blocked 26 shots and grabbed 18 rebounds.

"I had never heard anything like that in my life," Heath said. "He's a phenomenal talent, a great low-post player with the ability to step out and make a 15-footer."

Jefferson is ranked as the No. 3 prospect overall and the No. 1 power forward by and the No. 7 prospect and No. 2 center by

Hill, who has bulked up from 225 pounds to 255 over the summer, averaged 18 points, nine rebounds and seven blocks as a junior at Branson. He was rated as one of the top 20 players at the Nike Camp this summer.

The left-hander plays AAU ball for Arkansas Wings and he chose Arkansas over Kansas and Missouri.

Heath credited Hill's decision to commit to Arkansas during the spring for landing Jefferson and generating interest among other potential signees.

"Steven was the first and that drew a tremendous amount of attention to us," Heath said. "When Al jumped on board and made a commitment, that took everybody by storm and made them say 'Wow, Arkansas is going to be right where they used to be real quick.' "

New assistant coach Ronny Thompson has been recruiting Townes since the Hargrave Military Academy student was in junior high. Townes initially committed to Georgetown, where Thompson was an assistant, as a sophomore in high school.

The 235-pound Townes averaged 13.8 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocks as a senior at Archbishop Carroll High in Washington, D.C. As a junior, he averaged 16 points, 11 rebounds and he set a Virginia state record with 183 blocks, breaking the previous mark held by Alonzo Mourning.

"Darian is a good shot blocker," Thompson said. "He has gotten a lot of credit for being a defensive post guy, but offensively, he's pretty good, too. But he's so special defensively. He will allow us to have defensive flexibility."

Marcus Monk from East Poinsett County likely will play basketball for Heath, too, but he is expected to sign a football scholarship in February. Monk is a 6-6, 210-pound, guard-forward on the basketball court and a talented wide receiver on the football field.

He averaged 26 points and 13 rebounds as a junior and has more than 1,100 yards receiving this year.

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press