By Kevin McPherson
LITTLE ROCK — It was reported in this space last week that Arkansas and other high-major programs might take a bit more of a deliberate approach in recruiting the class of 2021 given the complete absence of live evaluation by coaches during the spring and summer due to the coronavirus pandemic, and Razorbacks head coach Eric Musselman echoed that assessment on Monday during a zoom meeting with the media.
“On a recruiting aspect, the landscape has changed,” Musselman said. “It’s never going to look the same I don’t think. This virtual stuff is going to stick around, and I think that’s a good thing. I think you can educate people a little bit more on your program than just waiting for a visit. I think you can find out what is real and not real even before an official visit on campus.
“Then there’s always the evaluation piece that, right now, has changed. We can’t read body language. You’re evaluating on live stream, and so forth, so we’re going to be extremely patient in recruiting this class and try to eliminate as many mistakes as possible. Whether there’s an NBA draft, a Major League Baseball draft, an NFL draft, college recruiting, you’re not going to bat a thousand. Nobody does in any sport. So you just try to do it as best you can from an evaluation standpoint and gather as much information. Right now it’s really hard and challenging to get a lot of information, so we’re going to be a little bit slower than in the past as far as how we go about things moving forward.”
We touched on some of the prospect evaluation hurdles in the linked Hogville.net article published on July 27 (https://forums.hogville.net/index.php?topic=716465.0), but setting aside the valid reasoning for recruiting with ramped up caution, the challenging reality is Arkansas will have at least three players (grad-transfer seniors) moving on following the 2020-21 season with the Hogs’ scholarship vacancies likely to double in number given the transient nature of players in this era of college basketball free agency.
A prime example is recent Arkansas player-movement history as Musselman has turned the Hogs’ roster over in 16 months on the job with 10 newcomers taking up the vast majority of the 13 scholarships in ’20-21, and though he is a master of mining the college transfer portal in the spring Musselman will still be looking to add high school talent in the early period if it makes sense.
For starters, the Razorbacks could be a season away from having a gaping hole in the roster in terms of losing big guards and wings. One of the seniors departing after ’20-21 is 6-6 grad-transfer combo guard Jalen Tate, and the Razorbacks could be looking to replace two more big guards in a year’s time in 6-5 junior Isaiah Joe (he’ll likely declare and stay in the 2021 NBA Draft after recently withdrawing from the 2020 draft to return to school) and 6-6 freshman Moses Moody (projected by several 2021 NBA mock drafts as a first-round pick if he leaves school early).
Arkansas is in great shape with several big guards and wings in the 2021 class (players we referred to in the aforementioned July 27 article and also mentioned below in some recruiting updates), so it stands to reason that Musselman and the Hogs could be in line to land one or more in time for the November early signing period.
Additionally, the Hogs will lose a couple of versatile combo forwards in senior grad-transfers Vance Jackson, Jr., and Justin Smith, which is a fitting segue into the recent addition of Arkansas associate head coach David Patrick, whose recruiting connections and ties to his homeland of Australia have produced wild recuiting success during his assistant coaching stops at St. Mary’s, LSU, and TCU.
Patrick could already be parlaying his successful track record “down under” into quick recruiting success with the Hogs as they look for versatile combo forwards in 2021 to replace Jackson and Smith.
Hired July 1, Patrick wasted no time in offering a scholarship to 2021 David Okwera (6-10 combo forward who’s from Patrick’s hometown of Melbourne, Australia) in his first days on the job. A source confirmed Tuesday that the communication lines between the Hogs and Okwera have been ongoing and positive since that early July offer.
Then there’s Akol Mawein (6-10 forward, Australia native) whose journey to the state of Arkansas began three years ago (’17-18 season) when he moved from Montverde Academy in Florida to Little Rock to play at Southwest Christian Academy (SCA) under then-Lions head coach Charles Baker, who is now the top assistant coach with Darrell Walker at Arkansas-Little Rock.
At the time, Mawein was believed to be on a path to eventually land at TCU were Patrick was an assistant coach, but after Patrick left Fort Worth, Texas, to take the head coaching job at D1 UC-Riverside in 2018, Mawein had a relatively fast-track commitment to the Highlanders.
Mawein ended up at Navarro College (junior college in Texas) where he had a solid freshman season in ’19-20 while Patrick was wrapping up his second season at UC-Riverside, but exactly one week following Patrick’s jump to Arkansas, Mawein decommitted from Riverside on July 8.
Skip ahead a bit, and on July 20 a source told Hogville.net that Musselman was inquiring about Mawein and his time at SCA as well as his time playing with the Arkansas-based Woodz Elite on the Nike EYBL circuit. Another source confirmed that Patrick had recently completed a zoom meeting with Mawein and that Musselman has also been in direct contact with him.
“He’s a Top 10 JC player nationally,” the source said of Arkansas’ interest in Mawein. “I would think so with his size, length, and shooting.”
Mawein was an active frontline jack-of-all-trades playing his junior and senior seasons at SCA. He was effective facing up for mid-range shots, crashing the offensive glass for putbacks, and running the floor hard for transition scoring opportunities.
In his first year at Navarro, Mawein started 21 of 29 games and averaged 13.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 1.2 assists while shooting 47.5% from the field (including 21-of-64 from 3 for 32.8%) and 62.4% from the free throw line. Mawein is still in Australia but is expected back at Navarro by “the end of the month (August).”
Linked here is Mawein’s hudl highlight reel from his freshman season at Navarro … https://www.hudl.com/video/3/13776256/5e800f16b5362c1084ce3b8f
Again, Patrick’s success recruiting Australia is well-documented, and just two names among many that come to mind are Patty Mills (recruited by Patrick to St. Mary’s where he was twice All West Coast Conference before moving on to the NBA where he was a key contributor on San Antonio’s ’13-14 NBA championship team) and Ben Simmons (recruited by Patrick to LSU for one season in ’15-16 where Simmons was SEC Freshman of the Year and first-team All SEC before leaving for the 2016 NBA Draft as he was the No. 1 overall pick).
* Reminder that 2021 Arkansas offer and ESPN national No. 44 / 4-star Chance Moore (6-5 shooting guard / wing, McEachern School, Powder Springs, Ga.) will be visiting Fayetteville this weekend (Aug. 8-9). It’s not an official or unofficial visit with Arkansas coaches as all in-person recruiting is off limits during the NCAA’s recruiting dead period, but Moore said it’s a chance to “check out the town” with his Dad. Including the Hogs, Moore is being pursued by nearly half of the SEC’s teams as well as programs in the ACC and Big East.
* 2021 Arkansas offer and composite national No. 94 / 4-star James White (6-5 shooting guard, Conyers, Ga.) told Hogville.net on Tuesday that he would have another virtual meeting with Hog coaches later that day. In mid-July, White included Arkansas on his list of Top 12 schools, but less than two weeks later he announced that he was re-opening his recruitment with the caveat that the Hogs were “absolutely” still in the running for his services.
* A source confirmed over the weekend that Arkansas “recently” offered a scholarship to 2022 ESPN national No. 59 / 4-star Cason Wallace (6-4 combo guard, Richardson, TX) with associate head coach David Patrick being the point man in Wallace’s recruitment. Wallace also holds offers from Baylor, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, TCU, Kansas State, and DePaul among others.
* A source confirmed on Sunday that Arkansas offered a scholarship to 2022 composite national No. 49 / 4-star Austin Nunez (6-2 point guard, Wagner High School in San Antonio, TX), and Hog coaches were setting up a virtual meeting with Nunez for this week.
* A source confirmed that 2023 Arkansas offer Bryson Warren (6-2 combo guard, Little Rock Central) was offered a scholarship by Ole Miss on Monday, and the same source relayed that Memphis has begun to show interest in Warren, who also holds offers from Texas A&M and Oklahoma State.
* 2022 Arkansas interest Creed Williamson (6-8 forward, Little Rock Christian Academy) confirmed on Monday that he recently spoke with St. John’s head coach Mike Anderson as well as coaches from Southern Miss. Williamson holds offers from Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Oral Roberts with the Hogs, Michigan State, St. John’s, and others showing interest.
* 2022 Arkansas offer Javion Guy-King (6-5 wing, Little Rock Mills) recently confirmed that he spoke with Hogs associate head coach David Patrick. Guy-King also recently added high-majors Oklahoma State and Ole Miss, as well as respected mid-major Murray State, to his growing offer list.
* 2022 national Top 100 Arkansas offers Nick Smith, Jr. (6-5 combo guard, Sylvan Hills, composite national No. 41 / 4-star prospect); Derrian Ford (6-4 combo guard, Magnolia, national No. 37 / 4-star prospect according to Rivals.com); Joseph Pinion (6-6 wing, Morrilton, composite national No. 87 / 4-star prospect); and Kel’el Ware (6-11 forward / center, North Little Rock, national No. 98 / 4-star prospect according to 247Sports) continue to add offers to their already impressive lists of suitors. Just last week: Smith picked up Baylor and Texas Tech offers; Ford added offers from Kansas State and Houston; Ware was offered by Auburn, Oklahoma State, and Ole Miss; and Pinion picked up an offer from Texas Tech.