Paul Boyd is a sports reporter for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He was voted Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2018.
Razorbacks adjusting to new roles on court
Arkansas guard Makayla Daniels looks to make a play during a game against Arkansas-Little Rock on Dec. 19, 2020, at the Jack Stephens Center in Little Rock.
FAYETTEVILLE — There’s no question that the University of Arkansas women’s basketball team is in transition.
The Razorbacks graduated three starters from an NCAA Tournament team, and even returnees Amber Ramirez and Makayla Daniels are adjusting to new roles, Coach Mike Neighbors said in a Zoom interview on Tuesday afternoon.
“Every single person on our roster is in a little bit of a new role,” Neighbors said. “Whether it be on the court or off the court, with leadership responsibilities or being a caretaker of things we do.”
Daniels, a junior, started every game and Ramirez, the lone senior on the roster, started all but one and averaged more than 32 minutes a game last season. Both have become more vocal leaders on the current squad, Neighbors said.
“You know, Amber’s loud in her celebrations and in her things, but she’s not real vocal, if that makes sense,” Neighbors said. “And Mak is the same way. They’ve had to really stretch themselves a little bit to have their voice heard.”
It’s a little more tangible for someone like 6-2 junior Erynn Barnum, who came off the bench a year ago. But Marquesha Davis, a 6-0 junior from Springdale who averaged just 12 minutes in 26 games off the bench, and sophomore guard Rylee Langerman could also see more significant minutes.
“Now I think that spot has flipped around, [for Barnum] the spot is hers right now,” Neighbors said. “She’s done that with her play in the past and what she’s done in the preseason. Shifting gears from coming off the bench to being a starter, that’s something that’s obviously a possibility for Marquesha as well with the improvement she continues to make.”
There’s still more than two months before Arkansas opens the season by hosting Tarleton State on Nov. 9 in Bud Walton Arena. Neighbors said his team could be ready sooner despite being together less than a month in the fall.
“If we had to play a game tomorrow, I think we’d be OK. I don’t think we’d be very good, but I think we’d be OK,” he said. “We’d get through it and we’d look like we’ve played basketball before.”
That’s a step in the right direction considering the Razorbacks have five true freshmen on the roster and 6-1 sophomore transfer Sasha Goforth, a Pac-12 All-Freshman honoree at Oregon State and former McDonald’s All-American at Fayetteville.
Neighbors said Goforth has shown leadership already despite being a newcomer. In addition, freshman Jersey Wolfenbarger from Fort Smith Northside comes to campus with some added confidence after being a part of Team USA’s U19 team that won a gold medal at the World Cup over the summer.
“You see [Goforth] getting more and more comfortable,” Neighbors said. “It’s been a fast fit. When it’s something where she can lead by example, she’s done that.
“They asked [Jersey] to be a post player and we worked with her on doing that for eight weeks. She’s taken a lot of the things we worked on and brought them into this.”
The 6-5 Wolfenbarger also got a different perspective with Team USA by being relegated to fewer minutes for the first time in a long time. She benefited from that, too, Neighbors said.
“I think that was really good for her,” Neighbors said. “There’s a hunger because she told me there is. It brought her some perspective and some fire, not that she ever needs any.
“It was a great experience for her to be around that climate, that atmosphere, that speed that’s associated with USA Basketball. I think it gave her some confidence.”
Neighbors also said guard Avery Hughes, a junior walk-on from Bentonville, recently was placed on full scholarship.
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