In about a month, Arkansas will play its first basketball game of 2009-10 after an offseason full of negative headlines.
The program's reputation has taken a hit thanks to a number of off-court issues, but guard Courtney Fortson insists there's an easy solution to all the bad publicity.
"Win," said Fortson, one of three players who met with the media Thursday along with coach John Pelphrey. "That's it."
Although the Razorbacks are eager to improve on the court, they'll also be judged on their performance off it. Pelphrey handed out multiple suspensions last season for various reasons. Then, allegations were made against three players by a woman who claimed she was raped Aug. 27 at a fraternity house. No charges were filed after an investigation.
It's hard to believe Arkansas appeared to be one of the nation's most surprising success stories in early January, after the inexperienced Razorbacks beat Oklahoma and Texas. Things fell apart quickly after that, and the Hogs won only two Southeastern Conference games.
Part of the reason the Razorbacks struggled so much was because they lost guard Patrick Beverley before the season. Beverley later said somebody wrote a paper for him while he was with the team.
Earlier this year, the program was put on notice by the NCAA about its low academic-progress rate.
It's unclear what effect the suspensions Pelphrey has given have had. Last season even ended with one: Jason Henry was suspended just before the SEC tournament and is no longer with the team.
"Since I've been here, I find a value in doing the right things, being a disciplined basketball team on the court, off the court," said Pelphrey. "And if you don't do the right things, we'll be swift to take action."
Pelphrey hopes that message is starting to sink in with his players.
"We're trying to mold them into men," Pelphrey said. "It's a process. That's why you have coaches, that's why I have bosses. That's why I have people trying to help me be the best I can be. I hope they understand. If they don't, we'll keep pounding them and doing all that we do."
The rape allegations had barely become public when prosecutors announced there would be no charges. Pelphrey said he would probably wait until closer to the season to discuss any suspensions related to the allegations.
Pelphrey was asked if he wanted his players to use the off-court issues as a rallying point.
"No," he said. "We're very respectful of that situation."
Fortson was joined at Thursday's news conference by guard Rotnei Clarke and center Michael Washington. None of the three was named in the rape complaint.
The Razorbacks return all five starters from last season's team. Washington, who averaged 15.5 points and 9.8 rebounds a game, briefly tested the NBA waters before deciding to stay in school for his senior season.
Fortson and Clarke both averaged in double figures, so there's enough talent around for a substantial improvement despite all the negativity surrounding the team recently.
"Putting those things behind us and focusing on the season is what we're wanting to do now," Clarke said. "Winning, like Court said, and having positive things on the court and off the court during the season is going to help us out."