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:
Musselman's open workouts not typical
Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman is shown watching practice on Monday, Sept. 26, 2022.
The catchphrase “What you see is what you get” would be a good description of University of Arkansas men’s basketball Coach Eric Musselman and his staff’s practices.
Recruits and parents watching Razorback practices, along with Musselman’s willingness to allow others to attend workouts, is a win-win for recruiting, relationship building while also giving insight into the inner workings of the program.
Bill Ingram, who founded the Arkansas Hawks organization in 1998, has been to about six practices since Musselman has been in Fayetteville, and he said he’s usually not the only one outside the program viewing practice.
“You see a lot more people at practice than you’ve seen in the past,” Ingram said. “I think it does wonders for recruiting because … you’re building a relationship with people and people feel good about you when you’re open to them. They’ve mastered that.”
While Ingram feels welcomed at Arkansas practices, he said it’s not always the case at other places.
“For the most part from what I’ve witnessed, they act like they really want you there,” Ingram said of Arkansas. “Sometimes others let you in practice because they’re like, ‘Oh, I want to make sure I don’t p*** this guy off.’ But when you come in, they’re [Arkansas] open. They’re very interactive with you and they act like they’re glad you’re at practice. I’ve been in some of those situations where people are OK with you, but you can tell they really don’t want you there.”
Critics might say Arkansas and Musselman are more reserved while conducting practices with others in attendance, but Ingram disagrees.
“As much as they’re open for practice, there’s no way they can hide or put on an act that many times,” Ingram said. “You’re cheating your team if you did.”
Because of his duties of being Arkansas Baptist College’s athletic director, Ingram was only able to attend one practice while on a trip to Northwest Arkansas.
“I was up there for three days and he [Musselman] tried to get me to come to practice every day. But I had other things to do, so I couldn’t get by there,” Ingram said.
Jennifer Black, the mother of Razorback freshman point guard Anthony Black, said attending practices during the recruiting process helped seal the deal with the Hogs.
“The accountability that Muss holds the players to was big for me as a mom and seeing their focus on defense was big because that’s a big thing for Anthony,” said Jennifer Black, who played soccer at Texas and Baylor. “So during the recruiting process, it was huge in choosing a school.”
Jennifer Black said she has heard from other parents and recruits who say what was sold to them during the recruiting process, didn’t match up with their experiences once they arrived on campus
“The practices we saw through the recruiting phase compare to the practices I’ve seen now in season are mirror images, which tells me it wasn’t a show they were putting on during the recruiting process,” she said.
The Blacks spoke with former Musselman players, current players, players who transferred out, former players in the NBA and family members of players during the recruiting process.
“I tell people all the time, there’s not a lot of kids in Anthony’s position as a freshman that can say going into January they feel like 100% they’ve made the best choice, and we still feel like that,” Jennifer Black said. “We knew exactly what we were walking into with Muss.”
Prospects and parents often mention how organized and detailed practices are at Arkansas. Former Razorback guard Blake Eddins, who lettered at Arkansas in 2000-03, has attended several of Musselman’s practices and marvels each time he views one.
“I’ve been to a bunch of different college sports football, basketball [practices] around the country,” Eddins said. “I’ve never seen anything like an Eric Musselman basketball practice. They are as chaotically organized to a ‘T,’ unlike anything I’ve ever seen from everything from the head coach, all the way down to assistants, the GAs [graduate assistants], the managers, players. You have the media content staff moving in and out with all the stuff going on getting pictures and getting video while they have all this is going on.
“They have sheets put up on the walls and when you’re not part of your drill and not on the court with your drill and waiting your turn, you’re studying stats on the guy you’re going to guard two days from now or the team tendencies.”
Eddins, a lobbyist and consultant living in Little Rock, has been accompanied by some fellow businessmen while attending practice.
“I’ve taken friends of mine that are business executives and every single one leaves blown away, not just from a sports experience, but from a leadership organizational experience,” Eddins said. “If you’re a Fortune 500 CEO or executive, you should go to an Eric Musselman practice. When you do, you’re going to take something away from how he leads and organizes each practice and his whole approach to the program that you can take back to with what you do leading your organization.”
The communication from Musselman and the staff haven’t stopped since Anthony Black arrived on campus.
“They have delivered 100% on everything they said,” Jennifer Black said. “The coaches are overly communicative. They keep me in the loop. It has been a really, really good experience.”
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