Richard Davenport covers recruiting for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He is the host of Recruiting Thursday, a weekly radio show that airs from 7 to 8 p.m. on 92.1 FM in Fayetteville; 93.7 FM in Little Rock; 95.3 FM in Fort Smith; 96.3 FM in Hot Springs; 104.3 FM in Harrison/Mountain Home; and 106.9 FM in Arkadelphia.
The Recruiting Guy:
UA visit impresses family of in-state prospects
North Little Rock’s Kel’el Ware hangs on the rim after a dunk during the fourth quarter of the Charging Wildcats’ 65-55 victory over Little Rock Central in the Class 6A championship Thursday at Bank OZK Arena in Hot Springs. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)
University of Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman impressed not only guard Derrian Ford of Magnolia and North Little Rock center Kel’el Ware on their official visits last week but also their parents.
The two ESPN 4-star prospects arrived Tuesday and left Thursday morning.
Ford called his visit “amazing.” Ware described his trip as “an eye opener.”
Darnell Ford, father of Derrian, saw Musselman’s penchant for details and structure firsthand.
“He’s the type of coach when he wants it done, he wants it done,” Darnell said. “Everybody is just on point. They’re not slacking nowhere.”
Ford, 6-4, 205 pounds, has 27 scholarship offers from Arkansas, Florida, LSU, Baylor, Kansas, Alabama, Texas A&M, Auburn and others.
He was named the Arkansas Gatorade Player of the Year on Friday after averaging 23.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3 assists while leading the Panthers to a 23-1 record and the Class 4A semifinals as a junior.
Musselman’s energy during games shows up in practice as well.
“I see why he’s so gritty on the sidelines … he’s the same way in practice,” Darnell said.
Practice was intense and full of teaching moments.
“If you weren’t where you’re suppose to be, you were told,” Darnell said. “If you didn’t dunk the ball when you were suppose to dunk the ball, you were told. If you weren’t on the spot on defense, you were stopped and told.”
Darnell spent time with assistant coaches Clay Moser, Gus Argenal and Keith Smart, who coached in the NBA from 2000-19.
“I asked him a lot of questions about the NBA game,” Darnell said of Smart. “The life of an NBA player. He was saying a lot of kids need to have guidance. It’s special to be with my son as a father. A lot of kids didn’t have that, and they kind of went the wrong way.’
He said Arkansas operates more like an NBA franchise than a college program.
“It’s so professional. It’s really high school to college, but if you think about it’s high school to professional,” Darnell said.
The Arkansas staff has 46 years of NBA coaching experience.
“With all the coaches, I think it would benefit Derrian very well if he decides to come to Arkansas,” Darnell said.
He was impressed by how the newly hired Smart and Argenal have fit into the program so quickly.
“It’s like they’ve been together forever because they’re all on the same page,” Darnell said. “Communication is big with me. I like the way they communicate.”
Derrian’s mother, Tiffani, likes that Fayetteville’s slow pace of life is similar to Magnolia.
“What Tiffani likes about it, it’s not fast here,” Darnell said. “It’s kind of like home.”
The younger Ford will attend the prestigious Pangos All-American Camp in Las Vegas today through Tuesday, then begin the process of trimming his list of schools and working on other visits.
“Once he comes back, we’re going to sit down and we’ll narrow it down,” Darnell said.
Ware’s mother Tamika Spaight said the staff’s NBA experience and the family atmosphere around the program stood out.
“I learned things I didn’t know,” Spaight said. “I guess I can say I didn’t depend on social media to tell me anything about Arkansas when I came because I came with an open mind. The coaching staff is amazing. The team, it seemed more like a family atmosphere. That’s important to me.”
Ware, 7-0, 221, has offers from Arkansas, Baylor, Oregon, Auburn, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma State, Florida, Texas, Texas A&M, Virginia Tech and others. He made an unofficial visit to Memphis on Saturday and will also attend the Pangos All-American Camp.
Spaight said a focus on family is vital.
“It’s important to me because I know they’re going to be on him just as much as I am on him at home,” she said. “As far as family goes, it’s important. Like you got my back, I got your back. We’re together.”
She was pleased to see Musselman’s plans to use her son’s skills inside the paint and on the perimeter.
“They would actually move him around the court. To me, that’s important because you don’t just put him inside the box,” Spaight said. “You can see he can be a well-rounded player.”
Spaight also was impressed with how Musselman and the staff conducted practice.
“You can feel the structure there,” she said. “When we saw the practice, you can see when they did something wrong, he would stop right there and correct it even though it was a fast-paced practice.”
The highlight of the trip was seeing the photos of former Razorback greats in the concourse of Walton Arena while visualizing a picture of her son possibly there one day.
“I actually took pictures of that part,” Spaight said. “I didn’t take too many other pictures, but that was something important to me. I love the history portion of it.
“Kel’el can be up there. This can be one of his pictures up here, and they can actually put it up on display.”
While Ware’s decision is up to him, his mother admits having him in Fayetteville is appealing.
“That two-and-a-half hour drive, that would help,” she said.
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