LITTLE ROCK — Since returning to campus in late May, the Arkansas Razorbacks went through their first full complement of limited practices last week, and as of Wednesday they had all 11 scholarship players on the court in some capacity.
With only four hours of total practice time to spread out over the week, head coach Eric Musselman makes the most of that time with a fast-moving practice that combines drill work, scrimmaging, and instruction among other things that will serve as the building blocks during the first 8 weeks of practice leading up to a comprehensive training camp when on-court time increases significantly.
It’s early, but here are some tidbits and takeaways …
* Arkansas used the week to go over philosophical aspects of Musselman’s on-court expectations while also teaching technique. The scrimmaging was controlled, which is to say it’s mostly halfcourt live, full-contact action (including 5-on-5) with stoppages for instruction and situational basketball. Like they did last season with an almost entirely turned-over roster, the Hogs coaching staff mixed up the lineups and matchups to get a look at different personnel combinations. A year ago, that early experimentation carried through training camp and preseason practices virtually all the way till the season-opener in late November. With so many new faces on the roster every season in this era of college basketball free agency, it makes sense that Musselman would take every possible opportunity to challenge his players in different lineups and situations, both from a competitive / chemistry-building standpoint for the players and from an evaluation standpoint for the coaches.
* Covid-freshman Davonte “Devo” Davis is once again playing with lunch-pail, hard-hat intensity, and a source said “Devo is defending like he wants to be the best defender in the nation.” Davis (6-3 combo guard, covid-freshman from Jacksonville) made his case in the final third of last season that he had become the best on-ball defender on the team, and combined with his elite 50/50-ball battle skills he was able to force live-ball turnovers that turned into transition offense at the other end of the floor. Davis will enter ’21-22 with high expectations that could include some preseason SEC honors.
* So far, word around the campfire is JD Notae (6-1 combo guard, covid-junior) brought his offense back to campus for his third season in Fayetteville. Scoring has never been a problem for Notae at Arkansas as he built a reputation as being hard to guard during his transfer-redshirt season in ’19-20 followed by an impressive debut as a Hog in ’20-21 when he earned SEC Sixth Man of the Year honors after averaging 12.8 points per game, which included five games of scoring 20 or more points. The Razorbacks were 8-3 when Notae scored 15 or more points. One of four Hogs to average double-figure scoring last season, Notae is the lone returnee from that quartet. This season, Notae will be looked to not only score, but become a dual-threat as a facilitating playmaker for others as well as a more consistent defender. Regarding the latter, Notae did show improvement in the final third of the ’20-21 season.
* Frontliners Jaylin Williams (6-10 forward / center, covid-freshman from Fort Smith), Connor Vanover (7-3 stretch-5, covid-sophomore from Little Rock), Kamani Johnson (6-7 forward, covid-junior and Little Rock transfer), and Stanley Umude (3/4-combo forward, covid-senior and South Dakota transfer) have all shown well in the early going. Johnson and Umude have brought “physicality” to the practice court. Umude will see time as a 3 and a 4 at Arkansas, hence the 3/4-combo position designation. In addition to his impact as a player, Williams is showing maturation as a leader. Williams was recently honored with an invite to Team USA U19 training camp to compete for a spot on the 2021 U19 FIBA World Cup Team. The training camp will take place June 17-28 in Fort Worth, Texas, and the U19 FIBA World Cup Championship will take place July 3-11, in Riga, Latvia. There will be five practices from June 20-22. Williams is among 27 players invited to the training camp, and the finalists for the 12-man team will be selected on June 23.
“If you’re picking sides, Jaylin Williams is one of the first guys you pick to be on your team because he plays his role and does whatever he can to help you win,” Musselman said via Twitter on Saturday. “He’s the ultimate team player and truly understands the value of hard work.”
* Hog newcomers Au’Diese Toney (6-6 wing, covid-junior and Pitt transfer) and Chris Lykes (5-7 guard, covid-senior, and Miami transfer) have already revealed what made them top players in the ACC before moving on the Arkansas. Toney’s plus-athleticism and versatility and Lykes’ shifty effectiveness have stood out thus far.
* Arkansas true freshman Chance Moore (6-5 wing, McEachern School in Georgia, ESPN national No. 70 / 4-star prospect) was the last Hog to make it to campus as he graduated from high school just a few days before arriving in Fayetteville on Sunday, May 30. Moore practiced for the first time on Wednesday, June 2. He along with covid-freshman and Texas A&M transfer Jaxson Robinson (6-7 wing) give Arkansas length on the perimeter, and both have flashed their potential in the early stages of practice.
* A source recently confirmed that Arkansas will host UCA at Bud Walton Arena on Wednesday, Dec. 1, in a rematch of the Hoop Hogs’ 100-75 home win last season, and later Arkansas will host Elon at BWA on Tuesday, Dec. 21. The Razorbacks are also set to play in the Hall of Fame Classic (Nov. 22-23 in Kansas City, Mo.) as they will join Illinois, Kansas State, and Cincinnati to make up the 4-team event.
* The newest walk-on at Arkansas is Cade Arbogast (6-3 guard, played briefly in ’20-21 at Lane Community College in Oregon). Arbogast attended high school at De La Salle in Concord, Calif., where Hogs assistant coach Gus Argenal’s younger brother, Justin Argenal, is the head coach. Arbogast played in 6 games last season, averaging 4.2 points and 1.3 rebounds in 14.3 minutes per outing while shooting 9-of-27 from the field (33.3%), including 7-of-23 from 3 (30.4%), as Lane CC went 4-2 when Arbogast played. The Hogs also have a first-year walk-on in freshman Lawson Blake (6-10 forward / center, Fayetteville, Link Prep in Missouri).