Anthony Boone understands that the University of Arkansas tops the food chain in his home state.
So in his first opportunity as a head basketball coach, the former Ole Miss center doesn’t expect Central Arkansas to topple the Razorbacks, but to become a realistic alternative.
Ole Miss didn’t have a long history of winning when Boone signed with the Rebels in 1994.
Similarly, UCA which moved to Division I in 2007, is trying to build its own history. Many people in Arkansas still remember the Bears as an NAIA and Division II program.
Before Boone left Oxford the Rebels had appeared in back-to-back NCAA Tournaments. His toughness was a big part of the rebuild, and he wants that style to be a cornerstone for his UCA teams.
UCA athletics director Brad Teague, who worked in fund-raising at Ole Miss when Boone was a player, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that Boone arrived for his job interview with a notebook full “of everything he planned to do for the next 10 years, and how we were going to go to the next level.”
Boone laughs at the memory.
“I do like to have a plan, typically,” he said.
Previously at UCA, Boone assisted former coach Russ Pennell – an Ole Miss assistant under Rob Evans when Boone played – and took over for Pennell after a 1-8 start through nine games this past season.
Behind Boone the Bears went 9-11 in Southland Conference play and narrowly missed the league’s postseason tournament. It was a one-game improvement from 2018.
Boone came back from four surgeries at Ole Miss to average 7.2 points and 4.8 rebounds for a four-year career.
It was Boone’s non-box score plays – his toughness – that prompted Evans to retire his number 41, at the time only the second number retired by Ole Miss athletics.
“The last operation, his parents were there and I was sitting there with him, he was getting ready to go in, and I said, ‘Anthony you don’t have to do this again,’” Evans recalled. “He said, ‘Yes I do coach. I cannot let my teammates down, I cannot let you down.’
“He gave me heart. If you ever want to see the heart of a Lion, that’s the heart of a Lion.”
Boone believes his UCA team exhibited some of that toughness in how it responded to deficits in several games this season.
It was a trait he hoped to further instill in his players before everyone scattered in the coronavirus shutdown.
“There was a plan in place to really ramp up, not necessarily a bunch of running, but certainly some things that were tough, the guys would have to fight through, to battle through to toughen them up a little bit more,” Boone said.
Now that plan has been put on hold until students return to campus.
In further building the program Boone wants to find a niche with in-state recruiting. When Pennell and Boone arrived at UCA they found it easier to recruit out of state.
“We’ve chipped away at it, and we’ve made plenty of contact with high school players and high school coaches, and now I feel like we’re becoming a viable option for basketball players in the state,” Boone said. “If Arkansas is recruiting them and we’re recruiting them, they’re probably going to go to Arkansas. We understand that. We’re going to keep working at it, and we’ve got some pretty good people that are interested in us now. We’re very happy with it.”