Musselman all in on throwback game in Barnhill

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Thursday, September 12, 2019
Arkansas men's basketball coach Eric Musselman exits a news conference on the floor at Barnhill Arena in Fayetteville on Thursday. On Wednesday, the program announced it would play its annual preseason Red-White scrimmage in Barnhill Arena on Oct. 5 and 3 p.m.
Photo by David Gottschalk
Arkansas men's basketball coach Eric Musselman exits a news conference on the floor at Barnhill Arena in Fayetteville on Thursday. On Wednesday, the program announced it would play its annual preseason Red-White scrimmage in Barnhill Arena on Oct. 5 and 3 p.m.

FAYETTEVILLE — One day after Arkansas announced it would play its preseason Red-White game in Barnhill Arena, Eric Musselman waltzed into his news conference on the gym floor sporting a navy blue, red and white Razorbacks basketball track suit.

The outfit, too, was complete with a vintage 1994 national championship t-shirt.

Musselman, entering his first season at Arkansas, not only embraced the program's golden era with his look, but he spoke excitedly Thursday about adding some flare to the team's scrimmage on Oct. 5 at 3 p.m. Doors will open at 1:30 p.m. and the game is open to the public.

"We couldn’t be more excited about having a throwback game and honoring our past and playing a game here in Barnhill," Musselman said. "We think that it will be awesome for the fans. ... I just felt like a traditional Red-White game, that’s kind of been done in the past.

"To do something new and different, this might be the only time that we play basketball back here. It’s kind of a neat thing."

Musselman, his staff and Arkansas' administration had been kicking around the idea of playing a game in Barnhill for quite some time. Since plans were finalized Wednesday morning, he said, he was unable to relay the news to Ron Brewer, Marvin Delph and Sidney Moncrief, who all gathered in Springfield, Mass., last weekend for Moncrief's induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

He did, though, run the idea by former coach Nolan Richardson, whose teams won 78 of 93 games in the arena over seven seasons. Musselman is hopeful to have a number of former players in attendance for the game.

"One of the first things we wanted to do … I wanted to make sure that (Richardson) thought it was a good idea, and he certainly did," he said. "He talked about a lot of the things that he had done in the past form a marketing standpoint and so forth.

"We’re going to reach out to as many players as we can and invite them back. Without question that’s something we’re going to start doing as early as next week."

As far as the actual game itself, teams have not yet been announced, but Musselman stated it will be competitive and the staff will use it as an evaluation tool. Tape will likely be used to mark the 3-point line and lanes.

"There will probably be some baskets that aren’t anchored down, so we’re not going to be doing tomahawk dunks," Musselman said. "Obviously, with volleyball being in season we don’t want to do anything to disrupt that at all. I think it will look really cool by the time we start playing the game."

In terms of team personnel, there is still no update on Arkansas forward Connor Vanover's request to the NCAA for immediate eligibility. A Little Rock native who transferred from California and committed to the Razorbacks on May 15, Vanover (7-3) averaged 7.5 points and three rebounds per game in his freshman season with the Golden Bears.

The team is practicing as if Vanover will have to sit out the 2019-20 season. There is no doubt in Musselman's mind a decision will be made in his case before Arkansas opens the season Nov. 5 against Rice in Bud Walton Arena.

"Right now it’s about practicing," Musselman said. "It’s about Connor getting better. Whether he was eligible to play or whether he was sitting out, we’d still have the same approach from a player development standpoint right now. We don’t really need a decision until about a week before."

Musselman also hit on the Razorbacks' schedule, which was finalized Tuesday with the Southeastern Conference's schedule release. Arkansas' 31-game schedule features 18 games in Bud Walton Arena, 12 road games - 3 in nonconference play - and a meeting with Valparaiso in North Little Rock's Verizon Arena in December.

He commended director of basketball operations Anthony Ruta for his work in putting it together, adding that he did a good job "looking at the numbers" of potential opponents in an attempt to gauge where they would project by season's end.

"Some of the games were already set up before we got the job, and there were some we put together," he said. "We really don't want to play anybody that's not a top team in their own conference when you talk about teams outside of Power 5 (conferences). We're trying to play people that will challenge us for SEC play.

"Our philosophy is not to pile up wins. Our philosophy is how do we become better as the season progresses, and we understand conference play is overly challenging in this league right now. We want to challenge ourselves."

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