Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a voter for the Heisman Trophy and has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
Don’t discount Bailey, Jones, Hazen next season
Adrio Bailey of Arkansas dunks against Austin Peay on Saturday Dec. 3, 2016 during the game at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Between the Razorbacks’ prowess lost in their three departing seniors and the attention gained on his three November signees, Coach Mike Anderson obviously anticipates more immediate help from his 2017-18 basketball freshman class than his freshman class provided in 2016-17.
Their high school hype and AAU accolades Arkansas magnified by their in-state origins add to the basketball buzz off the Razorbacks’ 26-10 season as 6-10 center/ power forward Daniel Gafford of El Dorado, 6-6 small forward Darious Hall of Little Rock Mills and 6-5 guard Khalil Garland of Little Rock Parkview this summer head north to the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.
However, before instantly envisioning Gafford, Hall and Garland buffering the graduations of three senior starters — All-SEC big man Moses Kingsley, blue collar guard Manny Watkins and transferred from Texas Tech shooting guard/ and team leading scorer Dusty Hannahs — don’t discount this 2016-17 season’s three freshmen contributing as sophomores.
Adrio Bailey and especially C.J. Jones and Brachen Hazen didn’t play much in 2016-17.
But think back. Kingsley didn’t play all that much either his first two years buried as the backup behind best friend 2015-16 SEC Player of the Year Bobby Portis now in his second NBA season with the Chicago Bulls.
Watkins, initially a walk-on, played even less as a freshman. Much less. Yet by his sophomore season the Fayetteville High grad was often sixth man and blossomed with increasing importance.
Senior-to-be Trey Thompson, the big man out of Forrest City High passing like a point guard and getting first shot in 2017-18 to fill Kingsley’s starting shoes, logged but 33 total minutes his freshman season.
He’s totaled 1,006 minutes, 503 each season, the last two campaigns and was especially big off the bench down this season’s SEC stretch.
Anderson will play a freshman plenty if he’s ready. But even Portis, a McDonald’s All-American coming out of Little Rock Hall, was told by Anderson to begin at “your pace.” Portis’ pace proved precocious netting 918 freshman minutes increased to 1,076 as a sophomore.
Incoming freshman accolades leader Gafford arrives with the same conditions.
“ I think Daniel’s got to come in and go at his own pace,” Anderson said. “What pace that is, is going to be up to Daniel. But I think the summer is going to be a big indicator of that.”
In the meantime Bailey, perhaps the most athletic returning Razorback, logged his season-high 19 minutes in the NCAA Tournament loss to the North Carolina team playing Gonzaga for the national championship tonight.
Jones, a shooter with opportunity created by Hannahs’ absence, and Hazen, “a stretch forward that can shoot the basketball,” Anderson said, developed daily according to their coach.
“I got a chance to see them every day and they got better,” Anderson said. “They really improved.”
In Anderson’s system capitalizing on depth, if they keep really improving they’ll get real opportunities to show it just like Kingsley, Watkins and Thompson before them.
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