Hogs’ Kouassi stepping up in Thompson’s absence

Hogs’ Kouassi stepping up in Thompson’s absence


Hogs’ Kouassi stepping up in Thompson’s absence


Razorbacks’ Willy Kouassi (50) with a dunk during a game between Arkansas and Delta State on Nov. 10.

Razorbacks’ Willy Kouassi (50) with a dunk during a game between Arkansas and Delta State on Nov. 10.

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas senior second-year junior college transfer point guard Jabril Durham had just made personal history.

For the first time in 42 games, all 36 for last season’s 27-9 Razorbacks and starting all six for these 3-3 Razorbacks going into Friday night’s game at Wake Forest, Durham cracked the double-figures scoring barrier. He scored 14 points in last Tuesday night’s 117-78 rout of the Northwestern (La.) State Demons at Walton Arena.

More importantly, since assists are his game, he double-doubled with 10 assists and copped a team-leading five of Arkansas’ 13 steals.

It was Durham’s postgame time to shine as star of the game but he would have none of it. Instead he honored a man he looks up to.

And at 6-1, Durham truly looks up to 6-10 Willy Kouassi, the African reserve center from the Ivory Coast transferred to Arkansas via Auburn and Kennesaw State from which he graduated leaving one season of grad school basketball eligibility he spends with the Razorbacks.

“The Player of the game for sure is Willy Kouassi on offense and defense,” Durham said Tuesday at Walton.

Durham said the Kouassi struggling just to catch the ball while trying to catch on to coach Mike Anderson’s system during his injury marred preseason provided positive energy spelling starting center Moses Kingsley for 18 of the game’s 40 minutes Tuesday while sophomore backup big man Trey Thompson, the Madison native via Forrest City High, missed his second consecutive game with a sprained ankle.

In 18 minutes, Kouassi scored 12 points, including 5 of 6 from the field and 2 of 2 from the line, grabbed nine boards defensively altered shots even if not officially rewarded with a blocked shot.

“I know he used to get tired of me in practice I would scream at him, ‘Catch the ball!,’ ” Durham said. “Today he caught the ball and he finished and he rebounded and he blocked shots. He was a presence down low when Moses (21 points and 10 rebounds in 23 minutes) was out.”

Kingsley concurred.

“He fit in there fine,” Kingsley said. “Now that Trey is hurt and we don’t know when he is going to come back — hopefully soon — he (Kouassi) knows he has to step up. Coach told him to step up. With our support he comes in and brings us energy. He helps us a lot. He boosts everybody.”

Energy and size is why Anderson, his team depleted by graduation and players turning pro and transferring, during the summer jumped on Kouassi when he declared himself one-year available upon graduation from Kennesaw State.

Especially since he knew something about him from Kouassi coming to America to play high school ball at Central Park Christian Academy in Birmingham, Ala., Anderson’s hometown.

“That 6-10 guy being available, and more important, he’s a good kid, good grades,” Anderson said. “You figure he can add to the team. He won’t take it down. He’ll add.”

It was hard for him to add early in preseason coming off surgery to repair a broken wrist but he kept battling.

“Since he’s been here he’s been working non-stop. In the classroom, you can imagine a guy that’s taking graduate classes as well,” Anderson said. “And on the floor doing the extra things to try to get better.”

Kouassi’s size and shot-blocking ability alone help defensively and he Tuesday night he surprised Northwestern State offensively.

“He’s pretty tough with that little jump hook out there,” Northwestern State Coach Mike McConathy said.

And getting more opportunities to shoot it,Anderson said, “Our guys are getting confidence in him catching the ball around in traffic and he’s finishing. So I think it’s combination of him getting more comfortable in what we are doing and this gets him even more confident.”

The Razorbacks need that mutual confidence continuing. Thompson’s status for Friday’s Wake Forest game is “day to day,” Anderson said and with but nine scholarship players in the regular rotation, they will need Kouassi after Thompson is fit.

“Every time I step on the floor my job is to play as hard as I can and help the team win,” Kouassi said. “I always know I have to be ready to do everything I can to help the team win.”


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