Neighbors believes in letting up
FAYETTEVILLE — As the new Arkansas Razorbacks women’s basketball coach, Mike Neighbors vows a fresh finish to his fresh start.
Neighbors inherits from former University of Arkansas, Fayetteville coach Jimmy Dykes a team that for its last 11 SEC games, including the SEC Tournament, went 2-9 in 2016 and 0-11 in 2017.
Many factors likely contributed to those teams’ faltering Februaries and March misery. Surely fatigue was among them, considering their rosters throughout each year were already depleted by injuries and attrition.
A disciple of Hall of Fame coach Eddie Sutton — for whom he was a Razorbacks walk-on and later served in various coaching capacities at Arkansas, Kentucky and Oklahoma State — Dykes practiced what Sutton preached, stressing tough practices.
Neighbors — a Greenwood native and former aide to former Lady Razorbacks coach and current Texas A&M women’s Coach Gary Blair and a former assistant to former Razorbacks coach and current Mercer women’s Coach Susie Gardner — skins the coaching cat a little differently.
Neighbors’ methods worked very well for him in his four years head coaching the Washington Huskies women to one WNIT and three NCAA Tournaments.
While some old-school coaches probably bite their lip not to gripe about the NCAA rule dictating one full day off per in-season week for players, Neighbors in Seattle started giving his Huskies two days off per game week.
Given his last two Huskies teams, 26-11 and 29-6 respectively, reached the Final Four and the Sweet Sixteen, the extra bounce off an extra day off apparently outweighed the extra work from the workouts.
“We took an extra day off and that helps when it come to late February and early March,” Neighbors said. “We stumbled on to it and then did a little research and saw it helped. We did it in the conference season. Now they would still come in on their own those off days and we did some shooting. But we didn’t bang on each other during a hard practice other than Wednesdays.”
Was he tempted to eschew the day off for a hard practice after a subpar performance?
“It was hard to do sometimes,” Neighbors said. “It was hard sometimes to realize that sometimes less is more. Our grades went up, our legs were fresher and we were better because of the rest.”
Neighbors said 11-time national champion Connecticut Coach Geno Auriemma believes in easing the foot off the practice throttle as game weeks unfold.
“Coach Auriemma works them hard but they aren’t in the gym every day,” Neighbors said.
Leaving one tough league for another, going from Washington’s Pac-12 to Arkansas’ SEC, Neighbors said he’s aware that feeling fresher at the finish “doesn’t necessarily translate to victories” in a SEC boasting both national champion South Carolina and national runner-up Mississippi State.
Nevertheless, Neighbors insists, “I do think we will continue to get better. I do expect us to play better basketball as the season goes on.”
New Arkansas women’s basketball coach Mike Neighbors (right) said he believes in giving his players two days off every week during the season so they can stay fresh.