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Bobby and the Bulls 

This is the time for our end of second-quarter report for Arkansas athletics, and it's a generally glowing one, certainly and refreshingly free of things like sex, lies and motorcycle accidents.

And on that note we segue to the guy who changed the meaning of "BMFP" around here. Bobby Portis slipped inexplicably in the NBA draft, anywhere from five to seven picks down the projection board, and was passed over by teams in need of his blend of skills in favor of dubious selections without his resume. That said, the Chicago Bulls saw the prize at their beckoning at the 22nd pick, and grabbed the Little Rock Hall product with confidence. And while flurries of trades always accompany the occasion, it was clear quickly that Chicago's brass saw fit to retain what it had chosen.

Portis fits in nicely on a team that cultivated a winning pedigree under deposed Coach Tom Thibodeau. He's so skilled offensively that he more or less looks like the complement to Joakim Noah at that end of the court, with marginally less athleticism but a far more reliable shooting stroke. The Bulls became a year-to-year defensive nightmare with the likes of Noah inside and Jimmy Butler on the perimeter, but Derrick Rose's entirely unpredictable health meant that the offense was one of fits and starts. Butler has developed beautifully as the poor man's Dwyane Wade, a sturdy and multifaceted two-guard, but when the Bulls needed post offense this year the results were decidedly mixed. Noah's become an inexplicably terrible free throw shooter, Taj Gibson has essentially plateaued as a post scorer, and time isn't on Pau Gasol's side.

Enter the SEC Player of the Year, a player whose frame is still maturing to catch up with an advanced and very natural game. Portis won't likely follow up his collegiate apex with an All-Rookie accolade in the NBA, but he will not be under that sort of pressure. If he's capable of generating eight points and five rebounds per outing next year while making progressive month-to-month advancement, he's going to excite Bulls fans who remember a raw University of Central Arkansas product who meshed well with their franchise guard in the late 1980s en route to six titles in the next decade. That's not to heap undue pressure on Portis to reach Scottie Pippen heights, but Chicago could do far worse than taking an energetic, skilled, hard-working small forward from the South again.

It wasn't in the cards for Michael Qualls to get that kind of fortuitous plunge. Instead, the other Hog early entry suffered a devastating knee injury in Phoenix, and days later his name went uncalled. Every pundit knew Qualls was taking a substantial risk by departing after his solid junior year anyway, but the blown ACL cemented the fact that he'd be looking for an employer. There is always a shine on these things, though.

Qualls played his three years with considerable reckless abandon. He entered as a sleeper, three-star prospect with notoriety as an athlete that outstripped his basketball savvy. Arkansas fans saw him progress as a scorer, perimeter rebounder and defender, and crunch-time asset. Nevertheless, as he flung his body all over the hardwood of Bud Walton Arena and abroad, it was hard for anyone to imagine him maintaining that clean bill of health.

Time to rehabilitate should serve two purposes. One is that Qualls may necessarily come back with a more measured way of doing things. He's only just discovered that his body is not impervious to damage, and if the timing was terrible for that lesson, it at least should soak in. Second and perhaps most importantly, the time off permits the swingman from Shreveport, La., to find a niche that fits him later his year. He's likely to start out somewhere in the D-League, whenever he does get his health back, but he could also be an instrumental plug-in on a playoff team come next spring. Patrick Beverley had a less ceremonious exit from the Razorbacks a few seasons ago, and had to toil overseas a bit, but teams saw his court savvy and embraced it and he now is entrenched in Houston as the point guard of choice. Qualls may get the benefits of this misfortune much quicker than he anticipated.

Lastly on the prospectus from spring 2015, Arkansas baseball fizzled out in two close ones in Omaha, Neb., but again the way the tournament unfolded had to be encouraging. The same Virginia team that the Hogs battled in the opening game at TD Ameritrade Park ended up snatching the crown despite teetering on the brink of elimination twice in Nebraska and basically for weeks before that. The Cavaliers' status as national power without a trophy to support it is now over, against long odds, and if Dave Van Horn has a message going into 2016, it's that his squad could have very easily been in that position.

The departure of Andrew Benintendi leaves a hole, but it's one that recruiting generally fills: Arkansas has regularly found steady, mobile outfielders from abroad. The pitching situation appears considerably better now, even with Trey Killian electing to sign his pro contract. No one could have predicted Benintendi's meteoric rise from slap-happy freshman to being the first recipient of the major national player of the year award for the university in any of the three major sports. That's why Hog fans continue to flock to Baum Stadium in record numbers, this year sporting the second-highest attendance in the country. Van Horn has built something very steady and reliable, and it is that kind of model that his gridiron and court contemporaries want to emulate.

Favorite

Speaking of Andrew Benintendi, Bobby Portis

  • Bobby Portis takes the headband off

    July 30, 2015
    The former Razorback considers his future. /more/
  • Hogs CWS preview

    June 11, 2015
    When Arkansas gutted out a 3-2 win over Missouri State at Baum Stadium to cap off a sun-soaked, cuticle-clawing Super Regional best-of-three, it sent the Hogs to the College World Series for the fourth time under Dave Van Horn's watch. /more/
  • Big on Benintendi

    May 21, 2015
    The spring has been, if nothing else, an unprecedented one for Arkansas Razorback individualism. Bobby Portis took his justly due hardware as SEC Player of the Year and now hopes to parlay that into a first-round selection by an NBA team that wants to develop his considerable skills for a couple of years. /more/
  • Baseball Hogs on a roll

    May 7, 2015
    We've noted a peculiar tendency for Dave Van Horn's Arkansas Razorback baseball squads to commonly defy expectations. You can see how this might be a wildly sliding scale, because when projections are modest the team almost always excels. In fatter years, those results trend leaner by the end. /more/
  • Life without Portis, Qualls

    April 30, 2015
    The reason college basketball fights desperately to recapture its erstwhile appeal, despite some excellent games in this NCAA tournament and those before it, is multifold. What happened to the Razorbacks' roster, for instance, is a tacit illustration of many issues coalescing in one hotspot. /more/
  • Michael Qualls to leave Razorbacks for pros

    April 15, 2015
    Michael Qualls joins Bobby Portis in opting for professional basketball over another year with the Razorbacks. /more/
  • Razorback Bobby Portis to enter NBA draft

    April 14, 2015
    By Twitter comes the largely expected news that Razorback basketball star Bobby Portis will pass up more time with the rising team to go pro. Money talks. /more/
  • The blueprint

    March 26, 2015
    When the final seconds of an unusually dynamic and impassioned college basketball game ticked away, and a season of restorative value for Arkansas's long-beleaguered program ended, the moment for reflection that a turbulent schedule had delayed finally came. /more/
  • Pass to Portis

    March 10, 2015
    As I craft this week's Pearls, the news that Arkansas sophomore wunderkind Bobby Portis was correctly tabbed SEC Player of the Year has crept across my metaphorical ticker. /more/
  • The Kentucky era

    March 3, 2015
    Arkansas was probably not well equipped to defeat Kentucky over the weekend, just to be thoroughly blunt. At the outset of Saturday's much-anticipated game, the Wildcats scored on a lob dunk within the first 10 seconds, and then seemingly strangled all possible momentum away from Arkansas anytime it dared attempt creation thereof. /more/
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