Analysis: Wolfenbarger's pledge is massive get for Arkansas

By: Dudley E. Dawson
Published: Monday, April 27, 2020
Fort Smith Northside guard Jersey Wolfenbarger is shown during a game against Fort Smith Southside on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020, at Gayle Kaundart Arena in Fort Smith.
Photo by Charlie Kaijo
Fort Smith Northside guard Jersey Wolfenbarger is shown during a game against Fort Smith Southside on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020, at Gayle Kaundart Arena in Fort Smith.

— Rainy Mondays may have developed a bad reputation over time, but this one will likely be remembered as one of the best Arkansas women’s basketball coach Mike Neighbors has ever had.

Fort Smith Northside junior superstar and 5-star prospect Jersey Wolfenbarger (6-5) publicly announced her commitment to the Razorbacks on Monday in a massive recruiting get for Arkansas.

Wolfenberger, a versatile player whose athleticism and skill belies her height, is ESPN’s 18th-best player nationally in the 2021 class. Bentonville 5-star center Maryam Dauda (6-4) comes in at 22nd.

Wolfenbarger averaged 18.7 points, 6 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.5 steals as a junior and chose Arkansas over some 30 other offers, including Oregon, Oregon State, Baylor, Southern California, Florida, Mississippi State, Texas, Miami and Notre Dame.

Neighbors has spent every minute the NCAA allows recruiting in his quest to land both of these top-25 standouts and one has got to believe he is hoping the other shoe, or in this case, the other commit drops sooner than later.

He is a charismatic coach, a hard worker who goes all in when he truly wants a player. Clearly, that came across to Wolfenbarger, who Neighbors offered as a 9th grader.

“I strongly believe the biggest thing that drove me to Coach Neighbors' program was his ability to make players great and he does it with players that have been doubted or questioned,” Wolfenbarger tweeted in her commitment announcement. “But not only that, I trust he will provide me with every opportunity to develop my game and get me ready to be great at the collegiate level and the NBA.

“Most importantly, though, he believed in me when I was a nobody. He offered me when I was a lot shorter and barely 100 pounds. It’s easy to offer me when I’m 6-5. He did when I was 5-6.

Wolfenbarger, who led Northside to a state title as a sophomore, was also clear she is ready to push her future teammates and set an example for those high school players coming along after her.

“The initial goal is to make it to the Final Four and I can’t wait to start working with my future teammates and coaches,” Wolfenbarger said. “Hopefully I can inspire the younger generation of players to work every single day. Mine came true and yours can, too.”

This comes on top of Neighbors landing Nettleton five star guard Elauna Eaton (5-11), a 2020 signee who ESPN has ranked as the 38th-best player in that class.

It was big to get Eaton after the last few 5-star girls prospects in the state chose to take their talents elsewhere.

Fayetteville's Sasha Goforth (Oregon State), Little Rock Christian’s Christyn Williams (UConn), Little Rock’s Taylor Scaife (Rutgers), Morrilton’s Shekinna Strickland (Tennessee) all went for what they believed to be greener pastures with the latter two now playing in the WNBA. Williams expected to get there as well.

Dauda averaged 16.6 points, 7.9 points and 2.6 blocks per game this season in just 21.2 minutes for the Lady Tigers (27-1), the Class 6A state co-champions this season.

No doubt Neighbors, whose teams have gone 13-18, 22-15 and 24-8 in his three seasons leading the program, hopes Dauda comes on board in the near future.

Wolfenbarger becomes the fourth Arkansas commit of the 2021 class, joining guard Samara Spencer (5-7) of Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas guard Ashlyn Sage (6-2) of Weatherford, Okla., and post player Emrie Ellis (6-2) of Ada (Okla.) Vanoss also on board.

While Neighbors has not been as out there on social media as men's basketball coach Eric Musselman, he has enjoyed watching his videos.

“I just know this, I don't try to keep up with him,” Neighbors said. “I just stick in the lane I know - movies, baseball cards, video games and stuff like that. I think it's phenomenal. I know how much energy it requires and only somebody like him operating at a level 10 all day long can do it, so I enjoy it. It obviously brought a lot of attention to the programs, to our university, and it's tasteful.

“He never crosses the line. He's never out there. All he's doing is talking about his program. He's not downplaying other people. He's not bringing other people into it. He's talking about his love and passion for his kids, for this university and for his family. Everything is done at the highest level. It's done for the right reasons.

“I follow everything. I watch everything he puts out, they put out. Sometimes we try to piggyback off of it. We do our own thing our own way, but I certainly like doing and reading and watching what they do.”

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