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.
Stars align for Hogs on first day of signing period
Morrilton's Joseph Pinion goes up for a shot during the Class 4A boys state championship game against Mills on Saturday, March 10, 2021, in Hot Springs. Pinion is committed to play college basketball at Arkansas.
MORRILTON — During Joseph Pinion’s collegiate signing ceremony Wednesday afternoon, there was a a photograph displayed of him taken a few years earlier, smiling alongside former University of Arkansas forward Moses Kingsley during an autograph session.
Little did the Morrilton sharpshooter know that years later he’d be in position to eventually do the same thing.
“I’ve been waiting for this day to come ever since I was a little kid,” said Pinion, who signed his national letter of intent to play for the Razorbacks in front of the Morrilton student body at Devil Dog Arena. “I wanted to be like Moses. … I was thinking about it [Wednesday morning]. It was like, ‘I’m really going to be a Hog.’ I’ve never been so happy.”
Pinion joined Barry Dunning of Mobile (Ala.) McGill-Toolen Catholic and Jordan Walsh of Branson Link Academy to officially ink with Eric Musselman’s 16th-ranked Razorbacks on the first day of the early signing period.
Pinion was all smiles as he was flanked by family members during the ceremony – one that featured several coaches that the 6-6 forward said played a huge part in his development.
“Joseph has been playing with our AAU program from a very young age, and I couldn’t be any happier for him,” said Arkansas Hawks founder Bill Ingram, who was seated next to Morrilton Coach Keith Zackery and Watson Chapel Coach Marcus Adams, who was previously an assistant coach with the Devils Dogs. “I always compare my players to former players, and he reminds me a lot of Isaiah Joe. They’re kind of walking that same path.”
Joe was an All-SEC player with Arkansas for two seasons before being selected by Philadelphia in the second round of the 2020 NBA Draft. For Pinion, he’s hoping his route is similar, but he’s content with taking baby steps, first.
The all-stater averaged 17 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals as a junior for the Devil Dogs, who lost to Mills in the Class 4A state title game last season. He shot 58% from the field and 40% from behind the three-point line. Pinion, rated a four-star prospect by ESPN, began garnering collegiate attention from a number of Power 5 schools, such as Kansas and defending national champion Baylor, as early as his freshman year, but he ultimately decided to commit to the Razorbacks last October.
“I think the thing with Joseph is he was the first one to step up in this class and say, ‘Hey, I want to be a Razorback player,’ ” Musselman said Wednesday afternoon in announcing the signees. “I think that’s always a powerful message when somebody believes in what’s going on and wants to commit at an early stage.
“But he obviously is a great shooter with deep, deep range. He’s got incredible passion to be a Razorback player. His dad and his mom and his sister, they’ve been to several football games and I think he’s really, really excited about getting on campus.”
Pinion admitted he is anxious to get to Fayetteville, even noting that he’d be there already if he could. But he also has some unfinished business to take care of in his final go-round with the Devil Dogs who kick off their season next Thursday against Sacred Heart.
“I’m just ready to get it started,” Pinion said. “We’re young, and we may take some hits early. But we’re going to get better as the year goes on. We’ll pull it together, there’s no doubt in my mind.”
Dunning, an ESPN 4-star player, was the first to sign with the Hogs during an 8:30 a.m. ceremony at his school on Wednesday.
Dunning, 6-6, 185 pounds, accumulated scholarship offers from Arkansas, Alabama, Auburn Memphis, LSU, Ole Miss and others before signing with the Razorbacks.
“Wednesday is a day of happiness and celebration,” said Dunning, who’s ESPN’s No. 20 small forward and No. 76 overall recruit in the nation. “All the hard work is paying off and drives me to continue to work even harder. Great day for me, my family, and friends and the sacrifices my parents made for me to accomplish this goal. But this is only the beginning to something special. Woo Pig.”
He was named the Gatorade Alabama Player of the Year while averaging 21.5 points, 11.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.8 blocks per game as a junior. A two-time Class 6A first-team All-State selection, Dunning was named to the 2021 Super All-State team by the Alabama Sports Writers Association.
“Barry is multi-faceted,” Musselman said. “He’s another really, really versatile player. He’s great off the elbows. He’s a really, really, really good passer, and a willing passer. Very well coached. He understands spacing. He’s got a really high basketball IQ with the ball in his hands, and when the ball’s not in his hands. A guy that can score with his back to the basket, can score around the rim, can face up.”
Dunning’s uncle, Pete Myers, is a former NBA guard who played at Arkansas-Little Rock. He cited his relationships with Musselman, assistants Clay Moser, Keith Smart and Gus Argenal, director of basketball operations Anthony Ruta and others in his decision.
“My very first phone call with Barry’s mom, she said, ‘You’re lucky your dad’s still not coaching, because that’s who Barry would play for,’ because she remembered when my father coached at South Alabama,” Musselman said. “When Barry’s mother said that, we all felt as a staff we had to really go all-in even though we knew he’s from Bama, and Alabama has a great program and Auburn has a great program. A lot of the SEC schools were recruiting him.
An ESPN 5-star recruit, Walsh, 6-7, 200, followed Dunning’s signing by inking with Arkansas during a 9 a.m. ceremony at his school.
“This was a goal I’ve been waiting for my whole life and to see it finally happen for me,” Walsh said. “I’m ecstatic.”
Walsh averaged 17 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists per game as a junior for Oak Cliff (Texas) Faith and Family squad that finished 25-6. He led the school to a 36-6 record and its first Class 4A state title as a freshman.
”He was my favorite guy to watch at that wing position and actually he’s got some unique abilities to be a passer, too,” Musselman said. “He’s a grab-and-go guy. Like he can grab a defensive rebound and ignite your fast break. He’s an electric athlete to watch. Like people are going to love watching him play in Bud Walton. He’s got explosive dunks. He’s got creative passing ability off the bounce. He can make three-point shots.”
ESPN also rates him the No. 2 small forward and No. 7 overall prospect in the nation. Walsh officially visited Arkansas, Texas, Arizona State, Kansas, TCU and Oklahoma.
ESPN 4-star Derrian Ford, 6-5, 205 of Magnolia will hold a signing ceremony at the Magnolia Performing Arts Center at 5:03 pm on Sunday.
Signing at the three-minute mark signifies One God, One Faith, One Baptism to the faithfully strong Ford. ESPN rates him the No. 13 shooting guard and the No. 68 overall recruit in the nation.
North Little Rock 5-star prospect Nick Smith Jr., 6-5, 185, is deciding whether to sign early or wait until the spring signing period in April. He’s also the No. 4 shooting guard and No. 6 overall prospect in the nation.
“Obviously, we can only discuss the three guys today, but we feel really good about the direction, the way we’re building this thing,” Musselman said. “I think we saw last year the impact of what the four freshmen can do. Again, three of them starting on an Elite Eight team, and three of those guys starting the last few games in the tournament and two of them starting basically the second half of the season. These guys are going to have an impact for sure, and a really, really positive impact. For many of them, it’s going to be an impact right away, just like we saw last year with some of the guys.”
The class is rated No. 3 nationally by ESPN behind Kentucky and Duke and ahead of Kansas and UCLA. The early signing period runs until Nov. 17.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette staff writer Bob Holt contributed to this article.
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