FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas forward Marshawn Powell said last Thursday he feels 95 percent recovered from last November’s season-ending knee injury.
The junior was asked a night later if he wanted to amend the percentage after showing little rust during the Razorbacks’ Primetime at the Palace scrimmage.
“I’m going to stick with 95 percent,” Powell said.
It doesn’t matter if he’s 95, 98 or 100 percent, though. Arkansas is just glad to see the junior back on the court as it dives into preseason practice this month.
The 6-foot-7 forward, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during a practice in North Little Rock, scored a scrimmage-high 15 points in the preseason practice tip-off event. He slashed to the basket for layups, battled down low with the big men and even stepped outside to knock down jump shots.
Arkansas is adding seven newcomers to its 2012-13 roster, but Powell might as well be part of the group. After all, he did just play in two games last season after averaging 19.5 points and 6.0 rebounds before suffering the injury.
“He’s going to make us a lot better,” Arkansas guard BJ Young said. “It’s what, 20 and 8 rebounds we were missing last year?
“Whatever it was, he’s a big-time player and we’re happy to have him back.”
The Razorbacks sorely missed his production, leaning on inexperienced players like Hunter Mickelson and Devonta Abron to shoulder the load in the post. It put pressure on Arkansas’ backcourt, forcing the guard-oriented team to produce.
The Razorbacks struggled down the stretch and it was hard for Powell to watch.
“You couldn’t tell? You couldn’t look at me in the face and tell?” Powell said when asked how hard it was to sit out. “I’m telling you, it was so frustrating. I just thank God I made it through it was a sane head. A sane mind.”
Powell tried to make the most of his time off the floor. He became a film junkie, of sorts, studying Arkansas’ games last season to develop a better understanding of what Anderson expects in his system. He thinks it has paid off.
“Old game film, practice film,” Powell said. “Every practice that we had, I watched it. Every game that we played last year I watched it. I’m continuing to watch it just to learn from it. I had to watch it because I couldn’t move. Sit on the couch and couldn’t move. But I enjoyed it. I learned a lot from it.”
Powell’s unofficial return to action came during Arkansas’ trip to Italy. He didn’t log heavy minutes, but did contribute overseas. It was a good experience for Powell, who called it a “trial and error” trip as he went up and down the floor.
Anderson called it an important week for Powell because it helped his confidence.
“Sometimes you have an injury you have a mental block,” Anderson said last Thursday. “That’s why I was glad he had the chance to play over in Italy. We played him to get some of the rust off and I can see when he’s running he’s running full strides and making full strides where he had been running guarded.”
So what is keeping Powell from being back to full speed?
The forward said it’s simply a matter of going out and proving he can play against other opponents. He’ll have some time to prepare for his official return the next few weeks. Arkansas plays its exhibition opener on Nov. 2.
“I just don’t really know how it will be against an opponent I’m not used to going against every day,” Powell said. “But I feel good.”
Arkansas hopes it continues for Powell, who has been plagued by injuries.
He is being counted on to lead a frontcourt that, while undersized, appears to have more athleticism than last year’s group. Mickelson returns this season and is joined by newcomers Jacorey Williams and Coty Clarke. Arkansas also is waiting for the NCAA’s decision on Houston transfer Alandise Harris’ immediate eligibility.
Each player will have a key role, but Powell’s performance could have a big say in whether the Razorbacks become an NCAA Tournament team this season.
“I haven’t played a full season with Marshawn yet since I’ve been here,” Arkansas junior Mardracus Wade said. “Hopefully everything goes smooth this year and we can keep him on the court and keep him healthy.”
Wade said Powell looks good so far, shaking his head when asked if he thought the forward was 95 percent recovered from the knee injury. Wade sees more and said Arkansas is ready to add Powell back to the frontcourt this season.
“Marshawn looks like 100 percent to me. But if Marshawn says 95, we’ll go with 95,” Wade said. “He’s working hard. He’s getting back into shape. He’s doing everything to get back on the floor. He’s looking really good.
“I can’t wait. He’s going to be a very, very big part of this team.”