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.
'He did a lot for us': Black had all-around special season
Arkansas guard Anthony Black (0) dunks, Thursday, March 16, 2023 during the first half of the NCAA Division I Basketball Championship First Round game at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa. Visit nwaonline.com/photos for the photo gallery.
LAS VEGAS — Anthony Black was overcome with emotion shortly after checking out of Arkansas’ season-ending Sweet 16 loss to Connecticut on Thursday.
The standout freshman made a pair of free throws with 1:21 remaining, gave a high-five to walk-on forward Lawson Blake as he entered the game then slowly dapped up other teammates on the bench. Black sat next to transfer forward Trevon Brazile and watched the final seconds of the Razorbacks’ season play out.
Brazile put his arm around the guard as tears flowed.
In an up-and-down season littered with obstacles and adversity, Black was a constant for Eric Musselman and Arkansas, often leading the Razorbacks through injury and fatigue. In Thursday’s postgame locker room, teammates raved about Black’s season.
“Really special,” Arkansas wing Ricky Council said. “I don’t think he realizes how special his year was. I hear little comments sometimes about how he could be doing this, he could be doing that. Nope. Not a lot of freshmen in the country were doing what he was doing.
“I know I wasn’t my freshman year at a smaller college. I just want him to be proud of himself and not dwell on [the 88-65 loss to UConn] too much.”
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Black finished with 20 points — 9 of 11 at the free throw line — and 4 rebounds to go with 5 steals in 37 minutes against the Huskies. With the outing, he closed the season first on the team in minutes played (1,255), assists (141) and steals (74), and second in scoring (12.8) and rebounds (182).
According to HogStats.com, Black is the only player in program history to reach 450-plus points, 180-plus rebounds and 140-plus assists in a season.
“AB, man, he’s a player,” Arkansas freshman Nick Smith said. “He’s done everything for this team that he could. He did a lot for us and we’re sure appreciative for what he’s done for us.
“As a friend, I want to appreciate him for…AB is my roommate. We pretty much talk every day about everything. And he’s probably a better friend than player, for sure.”
Despite battling injuries to his knee and ankle as well as sickness at times, Black played 35-plus minutes in 24 games. The freshman saw the floor for fewer than 30 minutes four times, including three before SEC play began.
“I feel like it takes a strong person to fight through not just adversity but physical pain, too,” freshman wing Jordan Walsh said. “I feel like if you can do that and fight through that and fight for your team, that’s the ultimate sign of a good teammate.
“He sacrifices for the bigger goal of our team and the rest of Arkansas.”
Black had a high of 26 points in back-to-back games at the Maui Invitational against Louisville and Creighton, and contributed at least 15 points in 12 games. He also grabbed 8 rebounds 4 times, recorded 8 assists in 3 games, tallied 5 steals in 3 games and blocked 4 shots once.
Black’s wide-ranging impact is a prime reason why he is expected to be an early selection in this year’s NBA Draft. As of March 1, he was projected as a top-15 pick by at least nine publications.
“Whatever step he has moving forward, I know he’ll be real successful,” Council said. “I’m proud of him, and he should be proud of himself.”
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Council, who recently wrapped up his third college season, said this month he may be more impressed with Black’s composure and selflessness than anything he does on the floor.
“To be the No. 1 point guard coming out of high school, he’s a real humble guy,” Council added. “I can’t say that about a lot of players in that position. On the court, same thing, honestly. His poise, and he’s 6-7, really smart player, knows where to pass, knows when to score and when to get teammates involved.
“That’s real big-time for him.”
Black’s natural instincts, skillset and savvy project well at the next level. Question marks about his game center on shooting and, at times, decision making given he was a 30.1% three-point shooter this season and had 109 turnovers as a primary ball handler.
But Arkansas assistant coach Gus Argenal said last week that Black is egoless and coachable. Razorbacks assistant Keith Smart, too, witnessed tremendous growth in the guard’s game.
Both agree that Black has a bright future.
“From playing at Duncanville and eventually getting here and trying to develop his game overall, good listener, pays attention. He studies teams and scouting reports and will have questions and answers,” Smart said. “He had a deal in a huddle in the SEC Tournament where he thought we should run something a certain way. That just started as he started getting older, not in age but in game [experience].
“He’s able to start talking about the things he sees, and that’s great for a young player and a point guard to start talking early about a play and, ‘We should put this player here or there.’ That’s really good.”
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