Like It Is:

Gafford gave Hog fans two good seasons

By: Wally Hall
Published: Tuesday, March 19, 2019
Arkansas forward Daniel Gafford celebrates following the Razorbacks' 74-73 win over Ole Miss on Saturday, March 2, 2019, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas forward Daniel Gafford celebrates following the Razorbacks' 74-73 win over Ole Miss on Saturday, March 2, 2019, in Fayetteville.

Word began to leak Sunday night that Daniel Gafford wasn't going to play with the University of Arkansas Razorbacks in tonight's NIT game against Providence or any NIT game.

That decision might upset a few Razorback fans, especially any who are making the trip to Providence, but Gafford knew that when he opted to declare for the NBA Draft, rather than play in a second-tier tournament.

Really, most fans should agree with his decision. He gave the Hogs two years, one more than was expected, and he was all out, all the time to help the team, even when he wasn't getting the ball but five or six times a game. And he never once complained about anything.

He's been a great team player.

Honestly, he could have only hurt his draft status at this point. No matter how many points you score or rebounds you grab in the NIT against a team that finished eighth in its conference it is not going to impress NBA scouts, but have a bad game and it could weigh heavily.

When Duke's Zion Williamson went down with a sprained knee a couple of weeks ago it was opined far and wide by NBA players, former players and some ESPN talk show hosts that he should skip the rest of the season.

It is what some college football players are now doing -- skipping bowl games-- to prepare for the NFL Draft. It is a way to avoid injuries and for Gafford, who plays so hard, that was a possibility.

Williamson, a freshman, opted to return and play, but he plays for the Blue Devils who are a No. 1 seed and the favorite to win the national championship. That's a little different than being a No. 5 seed in the NIT.

Gafford said all the right things, thanking Mike Anderson and everyone else, but the cold hard fact is he hasn't improved since he got there.

He was a ferocious dunker when he arrived and that's still his go-to shot. In warm-ups he makes 10-footers but doesn't seem to have the confidence to do it in games.

Normally he's a tough defender but Florida kept screening down low, and in Arkansas' system Gafford picked up the man with the ball and that left him near the top of the key and out of position, which helped the Gators grab 19 offensive boards.

Looking at a few NBA mock drafts Gafford is looking at being drafted about No. 20, but that's behind four other centers, three who are freshmen and the other is a sophomore.

Going at No. 20 would get him a three-year contract worth $6.1 million, but the last pick in the lottery gets three years at $7.5 million.

In other words, this was a life-changing decision he made, and he made it for himself which is what most of us do on a daily basis.

He would be the Razorbacks' first first-rounder since Bobby Portis in 2015 and only their fourth this century.

By all accounts, Gafford is a good person who is as well-liked in his hometown of El Dorado as he is in Fayetteville. He's a young man who if he sees a set of drums feels he needs to play them, and that's the wild side of him.

Of course he will be missed tonight. He was the best big man in the SEC this season, but until the last couple of weeks his draft stock was closer to No. 29 than it was No. 20 and he could only hurt that in the NIT.

What he needs to do now is get stronger and in the best shape of his life. Maybe find a big man to work on his moves, or do exactly what he said he was going to do after the loss to Florida last week when he said, "I'm not a complete player yet. But I'm going to be one soon."

What he deserves from the Razorback Nation is a thanks and good luck.

Sports on 03/19/2019


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