LITTLE ROCK — Year one of the Eric Musselman era at Arkansas ended abruptly in mid-March due to the covid-19 pandemic, and after a near-three-month layoff from all campus activities the Hoop Hogs are expected to be back in Fayetteville on Monday to resume basketball-related work to tip off year two.
The return is about two weeks later than the typical annual back-to-campus schedule, which usually coincides with the end of Memorial Day weekend. It will be a gradual phased-in process as unprecedented precautions — including covid-19 testing, social distancing, and working in small groups — will be new required guidelines as the athletic department makes determinations going forward that will allow for the return of competitive, full-contact workouts.
Arkansas junior guard Isaiah Joe — he’s still in the NBA Draft pool with a deadline to withdraw of no later than August 3 if he plans to return to play with the Razorbacks — will be among the veterans (sophomores, juniors, and seniors) who will report on Monday, and the freshmen will be moving to campus and reporting for team activities three weeks later (on June 29).
In a May 30 interview, Joe explained the process as it has been communicated to him by the Hogs basketball staff.
“When we get up there initially we’ll be able to get in the weight room, and get in the training room, you know just keep our bodies right,” Joe said. “I think they said like a week later we’ll probably be able to get on the court with some GA’s and some trainers. Keep it minimal people at a time, and I think about four weeks after that we’ll be able to get on with the team. So, we’ll just see where it goes. Hopefully they keep us posted on when we can get on the court.”
Arkansas finished the 2019-20 season with a 20-12 overall record (8-11 against SEC competition) in a roller-coaster season that saw a 13-2 start followed by a Joe injury (he played hurt in five games and missed six more) resulting in a 3-8 slide that was followed by a 4-2 finish with a healthy Joe back in the lineup. The Hogs defeated Vanderbilt, 86-73, on March 11 in the first round of the SEC tournament in what turned out to be the last game of the season, but had the season continued they likely needed at least two more wins (maybe three more) in the SECT to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Joe felt good about Arkansas’s NCAAT chances.
“Man, we had a really high ceiling,” Joe said. “We were definitely making a run. We had a good opportunity to make it to the NCAA tournament. I felt like we were going to make that run to get there in the SEC tournament. It was just unfortunate for the season to be cut short for us and everybody else. It hurt for a little bit, but now we’ve just got to move on and focus on the next steps in life.”
Those “next steps” for the Razorbacks are the preparations for the 2020-21 season that begin on Monday, and here is a list of the 10 veteran players who can now resume on-campus workouts …
* Isaiah Joe (6-5 shooting guard, junior)
* Desi Sills (6-1 combo guard, junior)
* Ethan Henderson (6-8 forward, junior)
* Reggie Chaney (6-8 forwad, junior)
* Connor Vanover (7-3 stretch-5, sophomore)
* JD Notae (6-2 combo guard, junior)
* Baybe Iyiola (6-8 forward, junior)
* Vance Jackson, Jr. (6-9 forward, senior)
* Jalen Tate (6-6 combo guard, senior)
* Justin Smith (6-7 forward, senior)