Scottie Bordelon is a reporter for the Hawgs Sports Network. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas and previously covered high school sports for the Times Record in Fort Smith and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He was the 2022 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
'We've got old guys': Experience a plus on Muss' latest roster
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman speaks Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023, during a press conference in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. Visit nwaonline.com/photo for the photo gallery.
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Eric Musselman can count the number of bad practices his basketball team has had this summer on one finger.
Admittedly, there were a couple of other workouts in which he would have liked the energy to be higher. But, as a whole, the summer months have been productive.
Consider it one perk of having a more-experienced roster than in years past.
“When I come home at night, I tell [my wife] Danyelle all the time there’s not as much coaching frustration,” Musselman said Tuesday at a news conference discussing the team’s summer work. “We’ve been able to accelerate some of our schemes. But there’s no comparison ever of teams other than the fact that what can this group execute and then move on to the next step or maybe a different phase.
“We’ve got in a lot more right now than we have in the past four years, and I think it’s a combination of a whole bunch of things.”
According to data from KenPom.com, a college basketball analytics website, the Razorbacks’ roster in 2022-23 had an average of 1.52 years of Division I experience. It was the second-lowest figure of Musselman’s college head coaching career.
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Only his first team with the Nevada Wolf Pack in 2015-16 had less experience (1.33 years).
Musselman’s 2023-24 roster, finalized recently with the addition of Southern Miss transfer forward Denijay Harris, features 10 scholarship players who have been a part of at least two college seasons. Eight of those players have at least three seasons of college experience.
Trevon Brazile, who is recovering from a torn ACL last year, and Louisville transfer El Ellis have two years of experience under their belts.
“I feel like on top, the majority of our team is old,” said Jeremiah Davenport, a transfer wing from Cincinnati. “I’m a fifth-year [player], so it’s bringing guys like that together along with a junior or a senior. We’ve got old guys. We all know. We’ve got one common goal.
“And with what Muss has been able to do over the years, it’s like we all know [what to do], if that makes sense.”
Tramon Mark, the program’s second transfer portal commitment of the spring, comes from Houston. He was part of a Final Four, Eight Eight and Sweet 16 run with the Cougars the last three seasons.
His combination of regular-season and postseason experience could be essential next season.
“He understands how to work hard,” Musselman said. “He understands expectations. It’s different with experience.”
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Ellis said meshing so many new players can be difficult. But the team’s willingness to learn, in addition to leadership from returnees Davonte Davis, Jalen Graham and Joseph Pinion — plus walk-ons Cade Arbogast and Lawson Blake — has made the process smoother.
“The whole staff is preaching every day the little things we have to do is why we win here,” Ellis said. “I feel like the different teaching that Muss and the rest of the staff [does] is going help us win a lot of games.”
Musselman noted that the team has been focusing on execution and doing a lot of 5-on-0 work. A playing rotation is “in no way, shape or form” set, and roles have not been defined.
A lot is left to be figured out before the exhibition schedule begins. But he seems encouraged by what he has seen of his fifth team so far.
“It’s been a really good summer as far as working,” he said. “Our mile times [were] much improved off the last four years. And then it’s a similar approach and adding type stuff that we had with our last year at Nevada, I would say.”
That Wolf Pack team was his most experienced, too.
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