UA camp notebook: Hoop Hogs increase live, contact practice thru week 4

Pig Trail Nation

By Kevin McPherson

LITTLE ROCK — Some of the best insight as to what’s going on inside the Arkansas Razorbacks basketball performance center in Fayetteville comes from the program’s frequent release of video clips from training camp, which just completed week 4.

It’s not only a window into what individual players are doing, but it gives a sense of the atmosphere that second-year head coach Eric Musselman and his staff are creating to foster teaching/learning, team chemistry, and evaluation of situational performance and personnel combinations.

Here’s what we gleaned from week 4 …

* Arkansas has been able to transition to variations of live, contact practice (not necessarily full contact, but at minimum partial contact) over the past few weeks. Versions of 5-on-5 full-court work could be seen as well as other full-court competitive drill work. Three examples of nifty plays during live competition from the past week’s practices highlighted the talents of junior guard Desi Sills and freshmen guards Moses Moody and KK Robinson.

First up was Robinson’s hard-and-fast baseline drive after cutting behind a screen-handoff on the right wing during 5-on-5 live work. Robinson’s burst will set him apart in this backcourt — a point we made in a recent training camp notebook tidbit — and certainly on this play it did as he beat two defenders driving toward the cup, pulling a third defender into the paint allowing Robinson to fire a crisp pass out top to a wide-open Sills, who proved once again that off-ball spot-up three-point shooting is one of his strengths as a scorer. Robinson’s feel and understanding of how to put pressure on a defense were clearly on display in that one play (highlight is linked here … 

In another 5-on-5 setting, Moody took his turn with a purposeful straight-line rim run from the top of the key all the way to the cup, along the way showing the ball then tucking it in before unleashing a swooping lay-in using his 7-foot-plus arm length for the finish. It came during 5-on-5 work, and it was the second time in a week that we’ve seen Moody get downhill with purpose and attack the cup (last week it was a drive-and-dunk finish). Moody comes in known primarily as a perimeter shooter, but if you look at his progression scoring inside the arc in 2019 grassroots basketbal on the Nike EYBL circuit as well as a breakdown of his offense as a senior in 2019-20 at Montverde Academy, you see development and diversity in his offense as he attacks moving closer to the basket (highlight is linked here … 

Finally, Sills went to his Euro-step bag of fun in a full-court transition drill that crossed up Moody as Sills’ authored a sweet sweeping wing-to-paint, off-hand finish going right. It was a thing of beauty as the veteran put the okie-doke on the rookie, and it illustrated Sills’ confidence and determination as a downhill finisher that was often on display during his first two seasons as a Hog (highlight reel is linked here … 

* Arkansas announced on July 30 that junior sit-out-transfers expected to make their Hog debuts in ’20-21 — guard JD Notae and forward Abayomi “Baybe” Iyiola — were not taking part in training camp as they recovered from injuries. Based on Arkansas’ recovery-and-return prognosis detailed at the time, Iyiola was to be out up to six months with the earliest return to possibly be December after suffering a ruptured ACL in his right knee, but Notae’s return projection was only 2-3 weeks as he recovered from an injured left wrist.

A quick check with a source to find out if Notae had returned to camp in the past week (roughly two weeks since the news of the injuries was made public) revealed that he has not yet returned and that currently there is “no timetable” for a specific return date. Notae is expected to play a key role in the Hogs’ top 7-8 rotation in the upcoming season.

“We hot boy!” Jackson was mic’d up for the first day of week 4 practice on Monday, and his verbal enthusiasm to engage teammates suggests he’ll be a vocal leader on a team blending 10 newcomers into the SEC. Jackson has drawn early praise for his perimeter shooting and he’s also taken turns in a point-forward role triggering the offense, but intangibles such as vocal leadership from a traveled veteran could be key in team chemistry and bonding (highlight reel is linked … 

Freedom on offense. This talking point actually came from a practice in week 3 (on Aug. 6). “No program gives you more freedom offensively than we do, nowhere in America,” Musselman said to his social-distanced huddled-up team. “But along those same lines, we’ve got to share the ball so that the freedom can happen. And then I’ll let you go. You get hot, go do your thing. But we’ve got to share that thing until somebody gets hot or until somebody gets cookin’, because it’s really hard to go get it on your own. Then you take two bad shots and then you’re sitting next to me.” (highlight is linked here … 

Nothing like a testimonial from a former player, especially if that testimonial comes from the 2020 Co-SEC Player of the Year Mason Jones, who not only led the league in scoring at 22.0 points per game in ’19-20 but also led the nation in several offensive categories while putting up 30-point-plus games at a clip (nine, including two of 40 or more points) not seen in the SEC in 30ish years.

Five minutes after the Hogs’ basketball program tweeted out that freedom on offense practice speech video, Jones retweeted it with a one-word follow-up: “Facts …” Former Hog Adrio Bailey also retweeted it while acknowledging its accuracy.

Take 4, or 5! Musselman has only four hours of practice time with his team each week — and the same amount of time is allotted for strength-and-conditioning training — so he’s chopped up the practice time in different ways through four weeks of camp. He’s oscillated between 5 practices and 4 practices per week, the latter of which was the executed gameplan in week 4. 

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For my pervious Arkansas Razorbacks training camp notebook reports — Weeks 1, 2, and 3 — click the link …

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