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Arkansas coach Anderson wonders if 2 best players will return after 27-9 season

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FAYETTEVILLE, Arkansas — The spring recruiting season for Arkansas coach Mike Anderson will begin on his own campus.

After the Razorbacks (27-9) recorded their highest win total in 20 years, Anderson is awaiting word on whether his two best players — sophomore Bobby Portis and junior Michael Qualls — will return for another season. Portis was the SEC player of the year, while Qualls was a second-team all-conference player.

"Obviously, they had really good years and we will hopefully get some information for those guys," Anderson said. "Certainly, the key is gathering information about their prospects in the NBA and then have an opportunity to sit down with them and their families, and have a frank discussion and see what they want to do. But the key right now is to gather information so they can make an informative decision."

Underclassmen have until April 12 to determine whether they will declare for the NBA Draft.

Anderson said he will speak to both players when the university resumes from its spring break next week. Most Arkansas players left town following the team's 87-78 loss to North Carolina last Saturday in the NCAA Tournament.

"I think the biggest part is Bobby enjoys being a college student and Mike does as well," Anderson said. "These guys grew together. They have got a strong bond and as they finished out the season they had a bad taste in their mouth losing to a North Carolina team that we really felt like we were ready to play."

Following the North Carolina game, Portis indicated he would return for another season. He said he would go to his hometown of Little Rock this week to consult with his family as well as mentor, former Arkansas all-American Corliss Williamson.

"I'm leaning toward coming back just because we lost and I hate losing," Portis said after scoring 18 points and recording 14 rebounds against the Tar Heels. "I don't want to end my Razorback career as a loser.

"I love the Arkansas Razorbacks. I want to be a Hog forever."

While speaking to his former high school in Shreveport, Louisiana, on Thursday, Qualls told KSLA-TV he will meet with his family and former high school coach before making a decision. Qualls said one factor in his decision will be academics and said he is only 13 hours shy of completing his undergraduate degree.

"I was just coming here to get a mental break this week," Qualls told the news station Thursday. "All that stuff is going to be there when I get to school, and we'll be able to sit down and make decisions on my future."

Portis led the Razorbacks with 17.5 points and 8.9 rebounds as a sophomore and was the first Arkansas player to earn conference player of the year since Williamson did back-to-back times in 1994 and 1995.

After making a name with fans for his acrobatic dunks as a sophomore, Qualls improved his all-around game as a junior, averaging 15.9 points and 5.3 rebounds. He scored at least 15 points in his final eight games of the season, including 20 in an NCAA Tournament win over Wofford and 27 against North Carolina.

"It's all about finishing and I thought he finished strong," Anderson said of Qualls. "To me, that's the mark of a guy who's making some tremendous, tremendous improvement."

Regardless of the decisions Portis and Qualls make, Anderson said he thinks Arkansas' "nucleus" is good. The Razorbacks finished second to Kentucky in the league standings and lost to the Wildcats at the SEC Tournament, and could return as many as 11 players if Portis and Qualls return next season.

"When you look at what possibly could be coming back, there are a lot of positive things taking place here," Anderson said.

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