Arkansas hoops targets size up national title game

By: Dudley E. Dawson Dudley E. Dawson's Twitter account
Published: Monday, April 5, 2021
Sylvan Hills guard Nick Smith shoots a 3-pointer during a game against Little Rock Hall on Friday, Jan. 17, 2020, at Cirks Arena in Little Rock.
( Jeff Gammons)
Sylvan Hills guard Nick Smith shoots a 3-pointer during a game against Little Rock Hall on Friday, Jan. 17, 2020, at Cirks Arena in Little Rock.

Several Arkansas basketball recruiting targets are excited about Monday’s national championship game between Gonzaga and Baylor, with the Bears getting the most love.

Gonzaga (31-0) and Baylor (27-2), which eliminated Arkansas in the Elite Eight, will meet at 8:20 p.m. inside Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Sylvan Hills junior Nick Smith (6-4, 170 pounds), named the Arkansas Preps player of the year, did not get to see the semifinals – Gonzaga’s 93-90 overtime win over UCLA and Baylor’s 78-59 victory over Houston - but is primed to watch the title game.

“I didn’t get a chance to watch either game this weekend due to having (an AAU) tournament this weekend, but I got to see the (game-winning) shot by (Gonzaga’s) Jalen Suggs. That was amazing,” Smith said. “I heard it was a great game, but I feel like this game is going to be one of the best games in college basketball in a long time.

“I am going to have to go with Baylor because I don’t think they have any weaknesses in their game.”

San Antonio Wagner junior point guard Austin Nunez (6-2, 170), whose high school coach Jimmy Smith is a cousin of former Arkansas star Charles Balentine, is taking his home-state team.

“It’s going to be a great one, but I am taking Baylor just because I am a Texas guy and it would be cool to see them win it for the state,” Nunez said.

North Little Rock junior center Kel’el Ware (7-0, 210), who has Arkansas in his recently released top 10, believes college basketball will crown its first perfect champion since Indiana in 1976.

“I think Gonzaga is going to win,” Ware said. “I think they both deserve to be in the top two.”

Arkansas 2022 commitment Joseph Pinion (6-6, 180) of Morrilton admits he would rather see another matchup.

“I think the winner will be Baylor,” Pinion said. “Both great teams, but it should be Arkansas vs. UCLA, in my opinion.”

Little Rock Central sophomore guard Bryson Warren (6-2, 180) believes the best two college teams are left playing for it all.

“It’s definitely going to be a good game with two great teams battling it out,” Warren said. “I know it will be a classic. Both teams are coming in as the 1 and 2 seed (overall), so I’m just excited to see some great basketball that I know this game will be.”

Magnolia junior guard Derrian Ford (6-3, 195) said it is a game that is too close to call.

“I don’t know who will win the game,” Ford said. “Baylor is a great team. Gonzaga is a great team. I know both of the teams will come out and try to play at their best ability and win the game.”

Former Little Rock Christian point guard Layden Blocker (6-2, 170), who is transferring to Bellaire (Kan.) Sunrise Academy, is also undecided on a winner.

“I think both teams have good coaches and players, Blocker said. “I just want to see a good game. I don’t have a prediction on who comes out on top.”

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