Arkansas basketball:

'I want to be a pro': Cylla prepared for SEC jump

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Tuesday, July 16, 2019
North Carolina's Garrison Brooks (15) guards UNC Wilmington's Jeantal Cylla (2) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. North Carolina won 97-69. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
North Carolina's Garrison Brooks (15) guards UNC Wilmington's Jeantal Cylla (2) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. North Carolina won 97-69. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

FAYETTEVILLE — Twitter bios are typically spaces where users make known their affiliations - past and present - and provide a bit of personal information for followers in 160 characters or less.

Jeantal Cylla, a graduate transfer from North Carolina-Wilmington who committed to Arkansas on April 20, didn’t need the full allotment of characters to describe himself. He didn't even need two.

Cylla’s bio is simply an emoji of the flag of Haiti. His mother is from the country, he grew up in the culture and, living in South Florida, traveled there from time to time when he was younger.

And last summer, the 6-7 forward was selected to play for the Haitian national team after impressing coaches at the team’s training camp. Representing Haiti on the basketball court was - and still is - the best experience of his life, he said.

“My teammates were playing all around the world in Spain, Ukraine, Russia, Brazil. I was learning from them,” said Cylla, who returned to Haiti this week to work a three-day youth basketball camp. “Just seeing how pros practice and how they prepare for games.

"Me being the young guy on the team I’d look at my teammates and see how they’re doing certain things. How they stretch, how my coaches coach. I want to be a pro, and being around all those pros, I took notes and soaked it all in. I was blessed for the experience.”

Cylla’s head coach was Matt Brase, an assistant coach with the Houston Rockets. Brase was assisted by Cody Toppert, now on Penny Hardaway’s coaching staff at the University of Memphis and previously with the Phoenix Suns, and Nick Friedman of the Maine Red Claws - the Boston Celtics’ G-League affiliate.

He did his best to take full advantage of his coaches’ next-level expertise.

“There was a lot of NBA experience on the coaching staff who’s seen the ins and outs of the NBA,” he added. “That really was the biggest thing, that they know who I was. They respect my game and allowed me to play on their team. They taught me so many things about being a pro.”

Arkansas’ coaching staff, which was finalized in late May and collectively possesses valuable knowledge of the college and pro game, can provide Cylla with even more of that wisdom and instruction to help him potentially reach his dreams.

A point of emphasis for him this summer has been to be as coachable as possible.

"They know way more than I do and have a ton of experience, and it’s really an honor to be a part of this team with these coaches," said Cylla, the first in his family to earn a college degree. "They’re so qualified. Everything they say I just take in and I respect them. I’ll go in to their office and may ask them a question or two outside the court."

Cylla averaged 13.7 points on a career-best 42.7 percent shooting and 4.6 rebounds per game in his final season at UNC-Wilmington in 2018-19. He began his career at Florida Atlantic - 8.5 points and 3.4 rebounds per game over two seasons - after a stellar high school career in which he was a three-time all-state selection and scored more than 2,600 points.

As a senior at Lake Worth (Fla.) High School, Cylla averaged 27 points and 11 rebounds.

Razorbacks coach Eric Musselman likes the forward’s versatility, an attribute Cylla - a career 31.2 percent 3-point shooter - considers a strength.

“He can play the 4, he can play the 3. He’s going to stretch out the defense with his perimeter shooting,” Musselman said. “And you’re talking about somebody that’s got experience. He’s a man. He’s gotten experience playing internationally.”

Cylla, who played in Conference USA with FAU and in the Colonial Athletic Association at UNC-Wilmington, said he is prepared for the jump to the SEC, which saw seven teams reach the NCAA Tournament and four advance to the Sweet 16.

"A lot of that stuff is mental," he said. "At the end of the day, they wear shorts just like I wear shorts. (Musselman) is going to put guys on the floor who he knows are prepared. I’ll be one of those players. I know he’s going to get me prepared mentally, physically and he’s going to get me where I need to be - all of us.

"I’m going to be well prepared. Trust me."

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