Richard Davenport covers recruiting for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He appears weekly on The Red Zone w/ JB on 92.1 FM Fayetteville, The Morning Rush w/ Tye & Tommy on 95.3 FM in Fort Smith; 96.3 FM in Hot Springs; 104.3 FM in Harrison/Mountain Home, 99.5 FM in Fayetteville and The Zone w/ Justin & Wess on 103.7 FM in Little Rock.
The Recruiting Guy:
Ex-Hog steering Virginia guard to Arkansas
It was hard to tell who was the happiest when University of Arkansas men’s basketball Coach Eric Musselman extended a scholarship offer to sophomore point guard Jayden Epps.
Epps was glad to hear of his 12th offer coming from the Hogs, but former Razorbacks guard Stefan Welsh, who has known Epps and his family since middle school, was thrilled.
“I’m super ecstatic,” Welsh said. “Obviously just to understand the passion that runs through Arkansas and what it is to be a Razorback. It was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. I follow Razorback football, basketball, baseball now and even girls’ basketball. I’m a Razorback through and through. For a kid like Jayden to get an Arkansas offer, I think I’m just as happy as he is.”
Epps, 6-1, 180 pounds, of Suffolk (Va.) King’s Fork, also has scholarship offers from Florida, Texas A&M, Virginia Tech, Saint Louis, Providence and others. He called Musselman on Tuesday and learned of the offer.
“He was basically telling me that they were interested in me and he wanted to give me a scholarship and he wanted to build a relationship with me,” Epps said.
He averaged 26 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 steals per game while leading the Bulldogs to a share of the Class 4 state title this season. He was named the Virginia High School League Class 4 Player of the Year and the Southeastern District Player of the Year.
Epps also became the third sophomore to be named All-Tidewater Player of the Year, joining former North Carolina players Jason Capel and J.R. Reid.
Welsh said Epps winning multiple player of the year awards as a sophomore makes him a special talent.
“That doesn’t necessarily happen around here because there’s so much talent,” Welsh said.
The 757 area code which encompasses the cities of Chesapeake, Newport News, Portsmouth, and Suffolk in Virginia is known to produce top talent on a yearly basis.
“Jayden is probably one of the best players that’s going to come out of here, a lot of people say, since AI [Allen Iverson] and [Anthony] ‘Cat’ Barber and those guys,” Welsh said. “So for Arkansas to offer him and for me to be as close as I am to the family and for the way I feel about the Razorbacks, I think it’s a neat deal.”
Epps said he is impressed with Musselman’s NBA background.
“He knows how to get there and what to do to get there,” Epps said. “That’s my goal. I want to be around people that have the same goal as me.”
Welsh returned to his alma mater of Woodside High School in Newport News, Va., as the head basketball coach in 2017. As a player, he lead the school to back-to-back state titles in 2004 and 2005 before signing with the Hogs.
When the NCAA announced a dead period on March 13, it forced the cancellation of spring basketball and the two live periods college coaches had planned to evaluate prospects. The dead period likely cost Epps chances to add to his list of scholarship offers.
“I think from talking to scouts around the country, he’s right on the cusp of getting to really blow up,” Welsh said of Epps. “In that class, he’s a top-25 talent without a doubt. He was a live period away from pretty much being one of the biggest names in the 2022 class for the spring period.”
Epps and his family plan to visit Arkansas with Welsh once the dead period is lifted.
“When I go on a visit, I see all of the facilities,” Epps said. “I want to feel like it’s a home, it’s a family and they want me there. That’s most important with me.”
Welsh has joined Adidas-sponsored Team Loaded of Virginia in basketball operations. Previously, he and Epps were with Boo Williams of the Nike EYBL circuit.
“When I was with Boo Williams, he was with Boo Williams,” Welsh said. “I came over to Team Loaded this year and he came over to Team Loaded as well.”
Epps, who said he’s a North Carolina fan, has a 3.2 grade-point average. Despite his youth, he shows excellent leadership skills.
“Being a leader is important because when you’re on a team, you have to lead,” Epps said. “Whatever we need at the time. If we need a leader by scoring, then I’ll score. Vocal leader, then I’ll do that. That’s important to winning.”
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