Mark shows toughness by bouncing back quickly

Arkansas guard Tramon Mark (12) guards JP Pegues of Furman during a game Monday, Dec. 4, 2023, in Fayetteville. (Caleb Grieger/NWA Democrat-Gazette)

FAYETTEVILLE — Ten days after Tramon Mark needed to use a wheelchair during a return trip home from the Bahamas with the University of Arkansas men’s basketball team, he played against Furman on Monday night.

Mark, a 6-6 junior transfer from Houston, had 7 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals in 26 minutes off the bench in the Razorbacks’ 97-83 victory over the Paladins at Walton Arena.

“Just a tough guy, and doing multiple rehabs,” Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman said of what led to Mark’s quick return. “And he wanted to play.

“Some guys are really thirsty to compete, and he’s certainly a student-athlete that really wants to get out there and compete. He really loves competition.”

Mark, averaging a team-high 17 points per game, scored a career-high 34 in No. 9 North Carolina’s 87-72 victory over Arkansas on Nov. 24 in the Battle 4 Atlantis, but was injured with 1:12 left when he fell hard to the floor on his back making a baseline pass on a drive. He was taken off the court on a stretcher as a precaution.

“We all were sad,” Razorbacks senior forward Makhi Mitchell said. “A couple guys were crying on the bench. Even the UNC fans were asking about him.”

Mark was taken to a hospital in Nassau, where tests revealed he hadn’t sustained a serious back or neck injury. He was cleared to return home on Arkansas’ charter flight.

“It was kind of scary seeing him the next day in the wheelchair,” Mitchell said. “We just had high hopes for him and said our prayers.

“I’m glad he’s back, though, for sure.”

Mark missed the Razorbacks’ 80-75 victory over Duke last Wednesday — when the now-No. 22 Blue Devils were ranked No. 7 — at Walton Arena. He resumed practicing on a limited basis Saturday.

In addition to having back and hip soreness, Mark also was dealing with a groin muscle injury.

“He tried to practice the other day and barely could move, but he was out there,” Musselman said. “You could tell he was stiff. He was a little apprehensive.

“But with each day that went by, he got a little more active. [Sunday] he was pretty good. We felt like he was going to be able to play. He said he was going to give it a go.”

Musselman said that during Monday’s pregame shoot-around, Mark went as hard as any of his teammates.

“Look, when he hit the floor, it looked bad,” Musselman said. “When the doctors were with him at the hospital, they were really concerned.

“We’re lucky, he’s lucky, because there was a lot of concern. But he is a really tough-minded kid and wanted to play as quick as he possibly could, which was [Monday night].

“He only missed one game. Unheard of for a back, groin and a hip — kind of all one injury off one fall.”

The Razorbacks took two days off after playing North Carolina, which was their third game in three days.

Mark dressed out when Arkansas returned to practice on Nov. 27, even though Musselman said he was only going to watch.

Mark continued to be dressed out, even when he wasn’t cleared to practice for a few more days.

“Tramon loves to win. He’s the ultimate competitor,” Arkansas senior guard Khalif Battle said. “We were all scared for him, because that’s our brother. Then seeing even when he could barely walk that he was still in practice suited up — and he was on the side getting stretched and doing a lot of rehab to get back — that just shows what kind of person he is.

“Shows what kind of teammate he is, and it shows how much he wants to win and how much he cares about us just to be there and to support us.”

Mark had 4 turnovers against Furman after having 7 in 207 minutes through his first seven games and hit 3 of 6 shots and 1 of 2 free throws to lower his numbers to 55.1% and 70%, respectively. So he showed the effects of missing practice and playing through some pain.

But Musselman said it was important that Mark played on Monday night leading into Arkansas’ game against No. 19 Oklahoma on Saturday in Tulsa.

“I think that was the decision we had to make — do we only use him if needed or do we let him get back in the flow with his teammates and not have too long of a layoff?” Musselman said. “Obviously we went with the decision to play him.

“I think it’s a huge positive for him and the team because we won a big game against Duke without him, and if we would have gone into this Oklahoma game without him playing in the last two games — it’s a rhythm, it’s a flow game and I think it certainly gets affected.

“Now that he’s back, we all understand the roles and everything a lot clearer.”

Mitchell said he liked the toughness Mark showed in playing Monday night.

“I figured he was that type of gritty player,” Mitchell said. “I like it, honestly.

“It definitely showed me a lot. It showed the team he has toughness and despite anything that happened, he wants to be with the team. I was impressed with that.

“Definitely didn’t look like himself, but he’ll be back.”

Mark started his first seven games before coming off the bench against Furman. He started all 37 games for Houston last season when the Cougars were a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Musselman, a former NBA head coach and assistant, said he met with Mark on Monday before the game to discuss what his role would be against Furman.

“I told him, ‘Hey, I would like to give these guys an opportunity to start that played well against Duke,’ ” Musselman said. “Asked him his feelings, because I think the one thing you learn in the NBA is you don’t change a player’s rotation or role based on injury.

“If you change the rotation based on productivity, that is what it is. But certainly the game T-Mark was coming off, I did not want him to feel that his role as a starter was changing based on the fact that he had an injury.

“Because the place I grew up at in the pros, you just don’t do that. So I thought it was worthy of a conversation.”

The conversation went well.

“He said, ‘I figured that was coming, Coach. I’m cool with it. Anything you think will help us win,’ ” Musselman said. “He had great maturity when he and I talked.”