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Kingsley’s return has Arkansas thinking NCAA Tournament

Arkansas South Carolina Basketball

Arkansas’ Moses Kingsley (33) shoots a basket over South Carolina’s Laimonas Chatkevicius (14) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against South Carolina in Fayetteville, Ark., Saturday, March 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Sarah Bentham)


FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Moses Kingsley remembers the moment he decided to return to Arkansas for his senior season, right after finishing a pre-draft workout last spring with the Boston Celtics.

Without an invitation to the NBA draft combine, Kingsley knew it was likely best to give his ascent up the ranks of college basketball’s better players another year of seasoning before turning pro.

If the 6-foot-10 center makes the same progress on the court this season that he did a year ago, he’ll have no such problem earning the NBA’s affection next spring - or helping lead the Razorbacks back to the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s nice when you have an anchor there,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said of Kingsley.

Kingsley entered last season as a relative unknown outside of Arkansas, having served as former Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Bobby Portis’ backup for two seasons. His athleticism was never in doubt, especially on the defensive end of the court, but the Nigerian appeared raw at times offensively.

After Portis’ departure for the NBA, Kingsley was thrust into a leadership position for an overhauled Arkansas roster. It was a position in which he excelled, finishing last season second on the Razorbacks in scoring with an average of 15.9 points per game.

He also led the team in rebounding with an average of 9.3 in 29.5 minutes per game, up from 10.9 minutes two seasons ago. And all the while, Kingsley continued to show his shot-blocking prowess by leading Arkansas with an average of 2.4 per game.

The breakout performance was enough to convince Kingsley to test his NBA future, though he decided in Boston that he wanted to return for his final season.

It was news his teammates had hoped for following a 16-16 season a year ago, particularly with a top incoming recruiting class on its way to join the Razorbacks.

“I was going to have to fight him if he didn’t come back,” Arkansas senior Manuale Watkins joked. “It was a big relief, because Moses is arguably the best player in the SEC.”

Following his decision to return, Kingsley has had a busy summer - from his inclusion among college basketball’s best at the annual Nike Basketball Academy in Los Angeles in July to a trip to Spain with his Arkansas teammates for four games shortly afterward.

He also spent time working out with his good friend, Portis, while focusing on improving his offensive game and limiting turnovers.

"(Portis) encouraged me to lead the team, set the tone in practice and the summer,” Kingsley said. “I told the coaches, `I don’t want to be good, I want to be great.”’

Arkansas won 27 games two seasons ago with Portis leading the way, and Anderson believes Kingsley has the talent to take on such a role this season - though he has stressed the importance of being vocal and energetic to Kingsley.

“I just think Moses is a lot more composed now,” Anderson said. “I’m trying to get Moses to where he just dominates in practice, and I want him to become that enforcer he’s always been around the basket.”