'Heart' instructs Razorbacks' Daniel Gafford to stay

By: Bob Holt
Published: Tuesday, April 10, 2018
Arkansas forward Daniel Gafford looks to go around Butler forward Tyler Wideman during a NCAA Tournament game Friday, March 16, 2018, in Detroit.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas forward Daniel Gafford looks to go around Butler forward Tyler Wideman during a NCAA Tournament game Friday, March 16, 2018, in Detroit.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Daniel Gafford listened to his heart instead of his head.

That was good news for the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Gafford, a 6-11 forward from El Dorado, was projected to be a first-round NBA Draft choice after his freshman season at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, but instead of moving on he'll return for his sophomore season.

"It took a lot of thought," Gafford said Monday night at the Razorbacks' basketball banquet. "At one point in time, I was 100 percent ready to go to the draft.

"In my mind, I wanted to go. But in my heart, I wanted to stay."

Gafford informed Coach Mike Anderson of his decision March 26, the Monday he returned to campus after spring break.

"It's big," Anderson said. "You've got a centerpiece with a guy like that. Can you imagine? He had a really outstanding freshman year. Now he can build on that and obviously be a cornerstone for our basketball team.

"We have some tremendous young talent coming in here, and he'll be the focal point of what we're doing."

Gafford shot up NBA Draft boards with his combination of size and athleticism. He averaged 11.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocked shots in 22.6 minutes in 35 games as a freshman, including 26 starts.

"Obviously he's a first-round draft choice," Anderson said. "We know that. He wants to be a great player.

"That's a testament to the kid and his family. He wants to get better, and he understands he's got to improve. He came to that realization, and I'm happy he did."

Gafford said when he came to Arkansas, it always was his plan to play at least two seasons.

"I love this program," he said. "We're like one big happy family, so I didn't want to take one part out of the family yet."

Two players who could have continued to be at Arkansas -- forward Darious Hall and guard C.J. Jones -- are transferring.

Hall, a 6-6 forward from Mills, averaged 5.1 points and 3.1 rebounds in 14.8 minutes in 35 games as a freshman this season, including five starts. He had 18 steals and 16 assists with 39 turnovers.

Jones, a 6-5 guard from Birmingham, Ala., averaged 6.3 points and 1.4 rebounds in 14.8 minutes as a sophomore this season while playing off the bench in 35 games.

Anderson said their decisions to leave the program came as a surprise.

"Everybody's not going to be happy," he said. "But at the same time, I want guys that are committed to being Razorbacks. So that being said, we've got a tremendous recruiting class coming in to go along with the pieces that we have here.

"It's like a fresh beginning. So I'm all about guys that want to be here."

Returning players are Gafford, forwards Adrio Bailey and Gabe Osabuohien, and guards Jalen Harris and Khalil Garland.

Harris redshirted this season season after transferring from New Mexico. Garland redshirted when he wasn't cleared to play because of an undisclosed medical condition.

Anderson said he remains optimistic Garland will play next season.

"Hopefully, we'll know as we proceed in the next couple months," Anderson said.

Gafford said he doesn't see himself as the team's centerpiece.

"We have a lot of puzzle pieces to the jigsaw puzzle coming in to the team next year," he said. "I believe we have some great guys coming in that are going to take us further than we did this year."

Six players signed with Arkansas in November: guards Isaiah Joe, Desi Sills and Keyshawn Embery, and forwards Ethan Henderson, Reggie Chaney and Jordan Phillips.

Mason Jones, a guard from Connors (Okla.) State Community College, committed to the Razorbacks last weekend, taking one of the scholarship spots opened by the transfers of Hall and Jones. He'll have three years of eligibility at Arkansas.

Anderson is expected to sign another player to fill the final scholarship spot.

"We want to bring in the best player we can," Anderson said. "That's what we do.

"Obviously, we can use some size. But we'll take our time, and we'll bring in the right person."

Sports on 04/10/2018

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