FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Arkansas point guard Anton Beard will make his return to the court on Saturday after missing the season's first nine games following a summer arrest on forgery charges.
Beard, named to the Southeastern Conference's All-Freshman team last season for the Razorbacks (5-4), was arrested in July after Fayetteville police said he was seen using and exchanging counterfeit $20 and $50 bills.
He entered a pre-trial diversion program last month in an attempt to avoid prosecution, and Saturday's game in North Little Rock with Mercer (8-2) will mark the end of his semester-long suspension.
''He feels grateful to have the opportunity still to be here,'' Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. ''I am sure there are a lot of things he wants to correct. How do you correct that? By going out and doing the right thing. So, it's a life lesson for him.''
Beard averaged 5.8 points in 18.9 minutes per game last season for the Razorbacks, who were 27-9 and finished runner-up in the SEC. He started the season's final 16 games, including a pair in the NCAA Tournament, and he shot 35.2 percent on 3-pointers while also averaging a steal per game.
The 6-foot point guard wasn't made available to speak publicly before his season debut, but Anderson said he's been practicing with the Razorbacks for the last two weeks in preparation for his first game.
Arkansas has struggled at times this season to replace last season's SEC Player of the Year, Bobby Portis, as well as second-leading scorer Michael Qualls. The Razorbacks were 2-3 following a pair of losses to Georgia Tech and Stanford in New York, but they have won three of four games since.
Without Beard, point guard Jabril Durham has flourished while averaging a team-high 30.8 minutes per game. The senior is second in the country with an average of 8.1 assists per game, and he's also averaging nearly two steals per game.
Anderson said while Beard's return will cut into Durham's minutes somewhat, he expects both to become more efficient with their play - and that the two are likely to see action at the same time as Arkansas tries to extend its winning streak to three games.
''He's not the savior,'' Anderson said of Beard. ''He's just going to be a guy that's going to come in and try to get back into the rhythm of things, because right now our guys are playing at a pretty good level.''