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Author Topic: Muss' transfer-heavy Hoop Hogs tipped off 2020-21 with first practice Wednesday  (Read 1541 times)

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Kevin McPherson

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By Kevin McPherson

LITTLE ROCK -- As an energetic, big-splash marketer of himself and his program, second-year Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman may end up best defining his time leading the Razorbacks basketball program by how he mined the ever-swelling transfer portal.

Consider the roster he inherited when he took over the program roughly 18 months ago had a single traditonal transfer (Jalen Harris), and since that time Musselman has dialed in and drilled down to unearth another 8 players transferring to Arkansas from D1 programs across the country -- 2 senior-graduates (Jimmy Whitt. Jr. and Jeantal Cylla) who came and went in 2019-20, plus 3 more (Connor Vanover, JD Notae, and Abayomi "Baybe" Iyiola) who sat as redshirting transfers last season who will blend with 3 new senior-grads (Vance Jackson, Jr., Justin Smith, and Jalen Tate) for the upcoming '20-21 season.

The latter three make up what was widely considered a national Top 10 transfer recruiting class in 2020.

And that's not counting two more transfers -- junior Kamani Johnson who will depart defending Sun Belt champion Little Rock at semester to join the Hogs and sit out until '21-22, and senior walk-on Brandon Kimble who left D1 Mississippi Valley State where he was a scholarship player.

Including two holdovers from the previous coaching regime plus Musselman's outstanding 4-player freshman class, Arkansas tipped off its '20-21 season Wednesday with the first day of official practice, and it was Musselman's six scholarship transfers (with the seventh in Johnson likely arriving by December) standing out as the Head Hogs' biggest contribution numerically and cosmetically to the make-up (or makeover) of his roster.

"Well, No. 1, thank goodness for the transfers, because if you want to talk about 18 months ago, we would have thought that Isaiah (Joe) and Mason (Jones) would still be part of our program," Musselman said during his Zoom virtual press conference with reporters just prior to the start of practice on Wednesday. "Both of those guys coming off averaging around 13 points per game prior to getting the job, we thought maybe one of them maybe would play their way into draft conversations, but I don't think any of us on this call could have envisioned we would have both those guys in the draft. I'm really glad that we went out and got three grad transfers with experience. Isaiah, with the timing of everything, we were not able to fill that roster spot, and when you lose arguably the best returning player in the league and can't replace that particular roster spot, it's problematic.

"Really glad that JD Notae and Connor Vanover were a year into understanding our system and understanding our terminology. That was really, really important for us because those guys understand our pace of practice, the way that we want to play and the competitive nature that we attack every day with. Certainly to have three guys that have been part of college basketball to help the younger guys I think are really, really important. And Desi (Sills) has done a great job of trying to self-coach his teammates."



Ironically but fitting of the mass-transfer times and landscape in college basketball, the NCAA's Division 1 Council on Wednesday approved a proposal to allow one-time transfers in all sports minus the traditional initial mandatory transfer-redshirt season, setting up a vote in January for final approval that if adopted will go into effect on Aug. 1, 2021.

It means that all college players can each transfer once in their careers without having to sit out a season before gaining playing eligibility in year two. The landslide movement of players from program to program is about to gain even more momentum, but Musselman obviously has a head start on the trend with an eye on blending a balance of high school talent and transfers.

The college transfer portal has evolved into an important part of recruiting, which just a handful of years ago was mostly viewed as a race to land the top graduating high school players in the country. Transfers bring instant infusions of maturity (both physically and mentally) and experience at the college level comparable to that of NBA teams pursuing and signing veteran free agents, something that Musselman understands after many years of coaching professionally before he entered the college game not so long ago.

By all accounts, Smith (senior 6-7 combo forward, Indiana transfer) had been the most consistent Hog through the 12 weeks of preseason "training camp," while Tate (senior 6-6 combo guard, Northern Kentucky transfer) has been solid and is expected to bring length, defensive prowess, and floor-leadership in similar vein to the departed Whitt.

Both players took part in Wednesday's virtual media event before practice, and both are likely if not certain to carve out roles in the Hogs' top 8-9 player rotation, although Musselman was not ready to concede what appears to be obvious.

"I think as far as rotations right now, its just way too early," Musselman said. "We switch up our first unit almost every day. I will say that probably the most consistent player since the first day weve been together has been Justin Smith. He allows us to play kind of a big lineup when hes at the three. He allows to play a little bit of the small ball when hes at the four. Then Jalen Tate is really important as well because at his size, when hes at the point guard, were a much better defensive rebounding team. Hes an unselfish player thats always thinking, How do I get my teammates involved?

"I think from a consistency standpoint, which is what youd expect out of two grad transfers, those two players in particular have been as consistent as anybody on our team."

Both seniors talked about what they'll bring to the team in what could be their one-and-only season as Razorbacks.

"Just a leader, you know,"  Tate said. "A point guard who can settle guys in on plays. Just kind of being a coach on the floor a little bit, too. Getting guys in position. Getting guys the ball in positions they can be successful and making those around me better. While also doing whatever it takes to win games. That's my biggest thing is just winning games."

Smith also talked about his opportunity to be a team leader.

"Definitely a leader for sure, you know, having gone through it for the past three years (at Indiana)," Smith said. "Ive seen a lot of different things and I can use that experience with the guys who may be a little bit more new to it. And really just doing whatever Coach asks of me on the floor. Im not really too worried about ... me making my role. Whatever role Coach wants me to play, Ill play that."

Jackson (6-9 senior combo forward, New Mexico transfer), Vanover (7-3 stretch-5, sophomore Cal transfer), and Notae (6-1 combo guard, junior Jacksonville transfer) also appear to be headed for significant roles in '20-21.

"JD Notae looked better than a hundred percent yesterday (Tuesday)," Musselman said of his guard who recently returned to full practice after recovering from a left wrist injury. "He dropped 5 out of 6 from three in live play and he looked good."

Much has been made of Vanover's three-point shooting ability, but he'll also be counted on the help turn around what was one of the worst rebounding teams in the nation last season.

"Obviously, Connor with his size gives us rebounding at that five spot," Musselman said.

Tate didn't pass on his opportunity to praise Vanover's offensive impact as a skilled 7-3 matchup nightmare for opponents.

"It creates a lot of mismatches for everybody," Tate said of Vanover being on the floor. "If you're coming off that ball screen and he's popping back they have to respect that every time, so it makes the defense shift. While also you can always find him. If he's open, his man has to be near the basket because he's playing the 5. So, I get him a lot of open shots and I feel like he gets a lot of others some open shots. So he makes my job a lot easier."

Smith -- he averaged career highs (10-plus point, 5-plus rebounds, and 30-plus minutes) for the Hoosiers as a junior in '19-20 -- said Jackson will bring perimeter firepower as well.

"Vance is a real shooter," Smith said, "a shooter-shooter and he can really knock down a lot of different types of shots and hes definitely going to help us spread the floor and space the floor and open up driving lanes for a lot of different guys."

Iyiola suffered a torn ACL to his right knee in the spring and there has been no definitive timeframe given for his expected return.

Although the six scholarship transfers eligible to compete make up the majority of the 10 scholarship players who will hit the floor for the first time as Hogs, coupled with some preseason projections and expectations that Arkansas is no worse than a top-tier SEC program on a trajectory for an NCAA tournament at-large bid, the veteran newcomers are not taking for granted that they will be driving the Muss Bus in '20-21.

"It definitely has been competitive," Smith said of the 12-week training camp leading up to Wednesday's start to the season. "Everybody is playing for a spot. And you can kind of feel it -- everybody's looking over their shoulders. But that makes everyone playing hard and pushing each other. So regardless of how it shakes it out lineup-wise, well be left better off because of it."
« Last Edit: October 15, 2020, 11:43:02 am by Kevin McPherson »
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Kevin McPherson

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By Kevin McPherson

LITTLE ROCK -- As an energetic, big-splash marketer of himself and his program, second-year Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman may end up best defining his time leading the Razorbacks basketball program by how he mined the ever-swelling transfer portal.

Consider the roster he inherited when he took over the program roughly 18 months ago had a single traditonal transfer (Jalen Harris), and since that time Musselman has dialed in and drilled down to unearth another 8 players transferring to Arkansas from D1 programs across the country -- 2 senior-graduates (Jimmy Whitt. Jr. and Jeantal Cylla) who came and went in 2019-20, plus 3 more (Connor Vanover, JD Notae, and Abayomi "Baybe" Iyiola) who sat as redshirting transfers last season who will blend with 3 new senior-grads (Vance Jackson, Jr., Justin Smith, and Jalen Tate) for the upcoming '20-21 season.

The latter three make up what was widely considered a national Top 10 transfer recruiting class in 2020.

And that's not counting two more transfers -- junior Kamani Johnson who will depart defending Sun Belt champion Little Rock at semester to join the Hogs and sit out until '21-22, and senior walk-on Brandon Kimble who left D1 Mississippi Valley State where he was a scholarship player.

Including two holdovers from the previous coaching regime plus Musselman's outstanding 4-player freshman class, Arkansas tipped off its '20-21 season Wednesday with the first day of official practice, and it was Musselman's six scholarship transfers (with the seventh in Johnson likely arriving by December) standing out as the Head Hogs' biggest contribution numerically and cosmetically to the make-up (or makeover) of his roster.

"Well, No. 1, thank goodness for the transfers, because if you want to talk about 18 months ago, we would have thought that Isaiah (Joe) and Mason (Jones) would still be part of our program," Musselman said during his Zoom virtual press conference with reporters just prior to the start of practice on Wednesday. "Both of those guys coming off averaging around 13 points per game prior to getting the job, we thought maybe one of them maybe would play their way into draft conversations, but I don't think any of us on this call could have envisioned we would have both those guys in the draft. I'm really glad that we went out and got three grad transfers with experience. Isaiah, with the timing of everything, we were not able to fill that roster spot, and when you lose arguably the best returning player in the league and can't replace that particular roster spot, it's problematic.

"Really glad that JD Notae and Connor Vanover were a year into understanding our system and understanding our terminology. That was really, really important for us because those guys understand our pace of practice, the way that we want to play and the competitive nature that we attack every day with. Certainly to have three guys that have been part of college basketball to help the younger guys I think are really, really important. And Desi (Sills) has done a great job of trying to self-coach his teammates."



Ironically but fitting of the mass-transfer times and landscape in college basketball, the NCAA's Division 1 Council on Wednesday approved a proposal to allow one-time transfers in all sports minus the traditional initial mandatory transfer-redshirt season, setting up a vote in January for final approval that if adopted will go into effect on Aug. 1, 2021.

It means that all college players can each transfer once in their careers without having to sit out a season before gaining playing eligibility in year two. The landslide movement of players from program to program is about to gain even more momentum, but Musselman obviously has a head start on the trend with an eye on blending a balance of high school talent and transfers.

The college transfer portal has evolved into an important part of recruiting, which just a handful of years ago was mostly viewed as a race to land the top graduating high school players in the country. Transfers bring instant infusions of maturity (both physically and mentally) and experience at the college level comparable to that of NBA teams pursuing and signing veteran free agents, something that Musselman understands after many years of coaching professionally before he entered the college game not so long ago.

By all accounts, Smith (senior 6-7 combo forward, Indiana transfer) had been the most consistent Hog through the 12 weeks of preseason "training camp," while Tate (senior 6-6 combo guard, Northern Kentucky transfer) has been solid and is expected to bring length, defensive prowess, and floor-leadership in similar vein to the departed Whitt.

Both players took part in Wednesday's virtual media event before practice, and both are likely if not certain to carve out roles in the Hogs' top 8-9 player rotation, although Musselman was not ready to concede what appears to be obvious.

"I think as far as rotations right now, its just way too early," Musselman said. "We switch up our first unit almost every day. I will say that probably the most consistent player since the first day weve been together has been Justin Smith. He allows us to play kind of a big lineup when hes at the three. He allows to play a little bit of the small ball when hes at the four. Then Jalen Tate is really important as well because at his size, when hes at the point guard, were a much better defensive rebounding team. Hes an unselfish player thats always thinking, How do I get my teammates involved?

"I think from a consistency standpoint, which is what youd expect out of two grad transfers, those two players in particular have been as consistent as anybody on our team."

Both seniors talked about what they'll bring to the team in what could be their one-and-only season as Razorbacks.

"Just a leader, you know,"  Tate said. "A point guard who can settle guys in on plays. Just kind of being a coach on the floor a little bit, too. Getting guys in position. Getting guys the ball in positions they can be successful and making those around me better. While also doing whatever it takes to win games. That's my biggest thing is just winning games."

Smith also talked about his opportunity to be a team leader.

"Definitely a leader for sure, you know, having gone through it for the past three years (at Indiana)," Smith said. "Ive seen a lot of different things and I can use that experience with the guys who may be a little bit more new to it. And really just doing whatever Coach asks of me on the floor. Im not really too worried about ... me making my role. Whatever role Coach wants me to play, Ill play that."

Jackson (6-9 senior combo forward, New Mexico transfer), Vanover (7-3 stretch-5, sophomore Cal transfer), and Notae (6-1 combo guard, junior Jacksonville transfer) also appear to be headed for significant roles in '20-21.

"JD Notae looked better than a hundred percent yesterday (Tuesday)," Musselman said of his guard who recently returned to full practice after recovering from a left wrist injury. "He dropped 5 out of 6 from three in live play and he looked good."

Much has been made of Vanover's three-point shooting ability, but he'll also be counted on the help turn around what was one of the worst rebounding teams in the nation last season.

"Obviously, Connor with his size gives us rebounding at that five spot," Musselman said.

Tate didn't pass on his opportunity to praise Vanover's offensive impact as a skilled 7-3 matchup nightmare for opponents.

"It creates a lot of mismatches for everybody," Tate said of Vanover being on the floor. "If you're coming off that ball screen and he's popping back they have to respect that every time, so it makes the defense shift. While also you can always find him. If he's open, his man has to be near the basket because he's playing the 5. So, I get him a lot of open shots and I feel like he gets a lot of others some open shots. So he makes my job a lot easier."

Smith -- he averaged career highs (10-plus point, 5-plus rebounds, and 30-plus minutes) for the Hoosiers as a junior in '19-20 -- said Jackson will bring perimeter firepower as well.

"Vance is a real shooter," Smith said, "a shooter-shooter and he can really knock down a lot of different types of shots and hes definitely going to help us spread the floor and space the floor and open up driving lanes for a lot of different guys."

Iyiola suffered a torn ACL to his right knee in the spring and there has been no definitive timeframe given for his expected return.

Although the six scholarship transfers eligible to compete make up the majority of the 10 scholarship players who will hit the floor for the first time as Hogs, coupled with some preseason projections and expectations that Arkansas is no worse than a top-tier SEC program on a trajectory for an NCAA tournament at-large bid, the veteran newcomers are not taking for granted that they will be driving the Muss Bus in '20-21.

"It definitely has been competitive," Smith said of the 12-week training camp leading up to Wednesday's start to the season. "Everybody is playing for a spot. And you can kind of feel it -- everybody's looking over their shoulders. But that makes everyone playing hard and pushing each other. So regardless of how it shakes it out lineup-wise, well be left better off because of it."

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« Last Edit: October 15, 2020, 11:44:19 am by Kevin McPherson »
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Very interesting hearing Muss talk about his team yesterday. I've been asking what their style and rotations will be, and Muss was open about the fact he hasn't figured that out. I take that to mean this roster is highly flexible and it will take some work to determine its best use. That's work beyond what they could do in the offseason.
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