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:
Analyst: Musselman well-suited for top players
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman answers questions during an NCAA Tournament news conference Wednesday, March 22, 2023, in Las Vegas.
The University of Arkansas men’s basketball program never produced a one-and-done player until Coach Eric Musselman and his staff arrived in Fayetteville.
Former Razorback guard Moses Moody was the program’s first one-and-done after being a lottery pick and chosen 14th overall in the 2021 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors.
The Hogs could have three more one-and-done players with this year’s draft coming up on June 22. Guards Anthony Black and Nick Smith and forward Jordan Walsh have declared for the draft, while Walsh has stated plans to do so while maintaining college eligibility.
NBADraft.net projects Black to be the seventh pick to Indiana, while Smith is projected to be the 11th overall pick to Orlando. NBADraft.net doesn’t list Walsh in its mock draft, but NBAdraftroom.com has Walsh going to the Oklahoma City Thunder as the 37th overall pick.
Walsh has until May 31 to withdraw his name and maintain his college eligibility.
ESPN national recruiter director Paul Biancardi said Musselman doesn’t shy away from recruiting elite talent capable of going to the NBA after a year of college.
“A lot of coaches don’t want to coach one-and-dones because beside the enormous talent they bring and the opportunity to have a winning team, there’s sometimes — sometimes not all the time — they’re hard to manage because you have to manage egos, expectations, there’s a circle around them that wants to waver in and wants to have their voice,” Biancardi said. “I think Muss is very comfortable and confident with his approach, his coaching style, his management of players.
“He coached in the NBA, so I think he’s one of those guys who is ideal for a one-and-done player because he knows how to push them to greatness but at the same time mange the expectations.”
Musselman’s success on the court and recruiting front has the Razorback program in the best shape since the Nolan Richardson era.
The 2020 recruiting class ranked No. 5 nationally by ESPN and featured four Arkansans with Jaylin Williams, Davonte Davis, K.K. Robinson and Moody. The 2022 class was ranked No. 2 nationally behind Duke and included 5-star prospects in Black, Smith and Walsh.
While Arkansas class of 2023 signees — point guard Layden Blocker and center Baye Fall — aren’t listed on NBADraftRoom.com’s mock draft for 2024, the site lists both as a possible first-round picks for next year. The site also lists Blocker as a possible first-round pick in 2025.
Musselman’s background, ability to adapt and recruiting strategy has impressed Biancardi.
“Since he got there, he’s recruited the state very hard and he’s went after high-profile kids they felt they had a chance to get, and he capitalized on the NIL situation“ Biancardi said. “It’s harder to coach a one-and-done kid than you think it is because not every coach isn’t made for it. Not every coach wants it.”
Biancardi also said he believes Musselman and the staff are selective and not always willing to recruit elite prospects who don’t fit the team-first concept.
“I believe he trying to bring in the right talent to Arkansas,” Biancardi said. “Guys he feels like he can coach. Guys he feels like are competitive and hopefully guys he feels that would be team-centered guys who are still trying to achieve their own individual goals. It’s that beautiful combination of reach your own individual talent and get to your dreams and then help the team be successful, too. I think he has that in mind when he recruits kids.
“He’s comfortable putting talent together to function as a unit and team, and that’s a gift because you have to be able to hold your ground. You have to be flexible but always keep the team first.”
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