Coach Sam Pittman cracked up the crowd at a Liberty Bowl joint …
Razorbacks' 2022 commits dream of 2023 madness
Arkansas basketball signees Nick Smith (front) and Jordan Walsh are shown during a game between the Razorbacks and Kentucky on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022, in Fayetteville.
One year from now, Arkansas’ vaunted 2022 basketball recruiting class plans to be dancing for a long time.
The quintet of McDonald’s All-Americans Nick Smith Jr. (6-5, 185 pounds) and Jordan Walsh (6-7, 200), and Derrian Ford (6-5, 205), Joseph Pinion (6-6, 180) and Barry Dunning Jr., (6-6, 210) are ranked third nationally by ESPN, 247Sports and Rivals.
Playing in the NCAA Tournament has been a dream for them.
They will be watching when Arkansas (25-8) opens play against Vermont (28-5) on Thursday night at 8:20 p.m. in Buffalo, N.Y.
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Smith led North Little Rock to its second straight Class 6A state tournament championship with 25 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists in a 65-47 win over Bentonville last week.
“I’ve certainly thought about it how great it is going to be to play in the NCAA Tournament and feel like we are bringing in a group of guys that will blend with those already there and be able to win a lot of basketball games,” Smith said in an earlier interview. “We all have that one goal to win it all and I really believed that is possible with he talent and the guys who have been winning and know what it takes.”
Smith and Ford recently pocketed state titles. Ford’s was his third in four seasons.
Ford, who also won his second Arkansas Gatorade Player of the Year Award, went 102-6 during his four-year high school career. He won 82 of his final 83 games, with the only loss being to Pinion’s Morrilton team last season in the state tournament.
Ford averaged 23.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3 assists and 1.7 steals this season.
“I feel that Arkansas will do great,” Ford said. “They have worked hard all year long and I know the team is ready for the action. Also, I am super excited to have a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament and help Arkansas win. Having that moment (ahead) gives me great chills of motivation to get better.”
Walsh has a chance to lead Branson Link Academy (32-1) to the GEICO National championship March 31-April 2 at Suncoast Credit Union Arena in Fort Myers, Fla.
He, Smith and fellow 5-star prospect Anthony Black of Duncanville, Texas, are scheduled to play in the McDonald’s Game March 29 in Chicago. The Razorbacks hope to add Black to this year’s signing class.
“Every one of us comes from winning programs and have had put in the work to get to this point,” Walsh said. “I know that is going to be the same way when we all get here to Arkansas and I know we are all dreaming of playing in the (NCAA) Tournament and doing what it takes to be the last one standing.”
Pinion has that same type of feeling with Arkansas in a region that also features Gonzaga, Duke, Texas Tech, Memphis and Connecticut.
“Extremely exciting,” Pinion said. “I’ve always dreamt about that moment since I was a little kid. I can’t wait to see how the guys compete. I feel as (if) they have a winnable region.”
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Dunning had a spectacular senior season while averaging 25.3 points, 12.9 rebounds, 3.3 steals and 2.6 assists for Mobile (Ala.) McGill-Toolen (30-5). He was named Gatorade Player of the Year in Alabama for the second consecutive season.
“Knowing that I will be at Arkansas a few more months and having a chance in March Madness is nothing but a grateful opportunity to experience and to win a national championship for the state of Arkansas,” Dunning said.
Dunning, who also has a 3.5 grade-point average, expects Arkansas coach Eric Musselman and his staff to have the Razorbacks prepared to be prepared for each foe.
“Exciting for the Razorbacks to be in March Madness,” Dunning said. “Therefore we can not take (any) team for granted. (I) have no doubt and know that the coaching staff will prepare the game plan and players well to go farther in March Madness and (win) it all. Take it one day at a time and one game at a time.”
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