Observations from Arkansas basketball practice

By: Jimmy Carter
Published: Tuesday, October 3, 2017
Arkansas freshman Daniel Gafford goes up for a dunk during practice Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas freshman Daniel Gafford goes up for a dunk during practice Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017.

— Arkansas held its media day at Bud Walton Arena and opened up the first 45 minutes of practice to media. Here are some observations.

— This team is very long and very athletic. Those were my main takeaways after watching the beginning part of practice, a lot of which was centered around transition drills. There were plenty of alley-oops and a lot of speed in the open court.

— Several guys changed their body over the offseason or once they got on campus this summer. Daniel Gafford weighs 235 pounds and has added strength since arriving at 217 in late May. Anton Beard has lost about 15 pounds to 185 and said he feels quicker than he has in a while. Gained weight when he sat out with his legal issues a few years ago, but feels like he’s finally back to where he wants to be. Mike Anderson referenced the competition for playing time as a motivator. C.J. Jones weighs about the same, 175, but is stronger than he was a year ago.

— Arlando Cook is still suspended and wasn’t out there. Anderson said they’re waiting for the legal process to be completed.

— Khalil Garland isn’t cleared to fully participate, but Anderson repeatedly said he was highly optimistic about him being cleared at some point. He was actually able to go through a lot in practice. Did some fast-break drills, three-man stuff and individual work. Dunked often and looked like he was still as athletic as he was in high school.

— Darious Hall and Dustin Thomas were the most impressive guys running Cleveland Hill.

Here were notes from different portions of the practice:

3 on 2/2 on 1 transition drill

— Darious Hall hit a nice baseline jumper from about 18 feet. During individual drills, he’s with T.J. Cleveland working with the guards and wings. Cleveland said they really like his shooting form and it’s just about him getting reps shooting 3-pointers and building confidence in it. His shot does look smooth and repeatable.

— Dustin Thomas’ playmaking instincts really show in a transition setting. Had an open baseline look on a 3-on-2, but snapped a pass for an easy layup. He had a few nice looks.

— Hall is so long and really athletic. Yesterday, he apparently had a big block on Gafford when the 6-11 center went up for a dunk in this drill.

— Unselfish play enhanced by good vision and nifty passing was really on display. Hall threw a no-look pass to Trey Thompson for an easy layup. Jalen Harris lobbed an alley-oop to Adrio Bailey. Thompson whipped a behind-the-back pass to Gafford for the authoritative one-handed dunk pictured above.

— Gafford is a legit 6-11 and can really jump. His hops combined with his length are going to lead to some highlight-reel plays. He makes difficult finishes look easy. Anderson said they’re working on getting him to play longer and take advantage of his height and 7-2 wingspan. When he does, he is an impressive above-the-rim finisher.

— Anton Beard was really complimentary of Gafford’s ability to impact the game with his athleticism, which should show up on the defensive end, too. Melvin Watkins thinks he’ll be able to switch on ball screens in time, but tends to gamble and reach a bit, which leads to him getting out of position. They want him to be a rim protector, but have always done at least some switching, which should be much better-suited to do this year based on some of the personnel groups they can put out there. May see Gafford hedge more early on, but will depend on the game plan. Obviously it’s still early, so he has a lot of time to get better.

— Jaylen Barford looked like the late-season version of himself that moved with certainty and a sureness that he could get buckets. Anderson said his conditioning is way ahead of where it was a year ago. He looked solid.

— There were a ton of alley-oops in this setting. This team should be able to force turnovers and get out on the break more and they’ll be entertaining when they do.

— Jones and Daryl Macon stayed on the court shooting 3-pointers during a water break and combined to hit about 80 percent. Macon got up extra shots during each water break in the open portion. He is highly motivated.

Fullcourt 1 on 1 dribbling

— Jones’ handle is much tighter than it was a year ago. Guys were able to get under him and it was obvious he didn’t have a ton of confidence in his ability to put the ball on the floor. Tuesday, he was wrapping it behind his back and going between his legs with ease, unbothered by the defense. He doesn’t have to be a primary ballhandler, but having the confidence to attack off the bounce will be big for him.

— Harris is really quick on the ball and sliding his feet. He was turning guys.

Fullcourt 2 on 2

— Harris is also really quick with the ball in his hands. He dribbles like he’s on the playground at times, kind of like an Allen Iverson or Isaiah Thomas borderline-carry shimmy that gets guys leaning the wrong way. He can get in the lane and set guys up. Hit Barford in the corner for an open 3.

— Dustin Thomas’ shot reverted to the leg-kicky fadeaway we saw at times last year on his only jumper in the drill, a badly missed baseline 15-footer. On balance, he’s a decent shooter. Has to stay on balance.

— Adrio Bailey swished a nice baseline jumper a bit later. Watkins complimented the progress he’s made with his shot and he was knocking down mid-range jumpers at a solid clip throughout, definitely much better than a year ago. His shot looks much more fluid and natural, without a hitch. Being able to present some kind of shooting threat would be big and help open up his ability to attack close outs.

— Surprise, surprise, Thompson is still a great passer. Dude’s feel for the game is tremendous.

Fullcourt 3 on 3

— Anderson indicated Gafford’s ability as a passer might be a little underrated and he had a nice touch pass for an easy layup. Good, quick decision.

— Gabe Osabuohien’s handle is a bit mechanical at this point. His jumper looks like it has potential. He competes hard on defense and his length and frame makes you think he’ll be able to help on that end of the court.

Individual guard and big work

— Bailey gets a ton of lift on his jumper. Gafford, on the other hand, gets barely any. They’re working on building up his face-up game and he’s starting to get more comfortable after not being asked to do that often in high school.

— Bailey and Osabuohien can provide some versatility, but worked with the bigs. Anderson said Bailey’s rebounding has been really impressive. There are a few guys who could claim to be the best athlete on the team and he’s one of them.

— The guards worked on a bunch of motion concepts, repping guard-guard screens working split cuts off the high post that led to kick outs for corner 3s. Cleveland trying to emphasis the importance of movement and motion off the ball.

— Harris made some jumpers, but his shot has inconsistent rotation. Was one of his weaknesses at New Mexico.

General Thoughts

— Gafford’s sheer size, length and athleticism is highly impressive. Even if he’s raw, which he is, he should be able to impact the game on both ends based off those traits.

— Hall does a lot of stuff well and could be a versatile guy who connects a lot of different lineups. I don’t know if I trust him to take and make 3-pointers consistently in a game at this point, but his form is good and he’s working on it. If he can become somewhat consistent shooting the ball, he is a really valuable player.

— Bailey’s athleticism is impressive. It sounds like he’s impressed the staff. I’d expect him to be in the rotation.

— Harris looks like he’ll be a good one.

— It's a practice setting in early October, but the overall athleticism was really impressive. Barford and Macon are proven. There are a lot of pieces for Anderson to tinker with.

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