By Kevin McPherson
LITTLE ROCK — It was an abbreviated Week 8 of training camp for the Arkansas Razorbacks, who returned from a long Labor Day holiday weekend to resume practice on Tuesday.
Second-year head coach Eric Musselman and his staff continued to evaluate a roster that will put 10 scholarship players in Hog uniforms for the first time in 2020-21, and a source said the team’s effort continues to stand out nearly two months since the start of practice. Here were some takeaways from the week …
* J-Dub mic’ed up! By most accounts freshman forward Jaylin Williams (6-10, 245) has had a good camp so far, and the Razorbacks’ basketball program had him “mic’ed up” during practice and released a video via Twitter early in the week of Williams’ practice highlights and commentary (linked here …
What Williams brings to the floor is face-up shooting and passing skill, as well as volume rebounding, but observers say his high basketball IQ and decision-making have had a positive impact during practices. Regarding the rebounding, a source suggested Williams — he averaged double-figure boards during the 2019 Nike EYBL spring/summer circuit as well as the ’19-20 high school season at Fort Smith Northside while earning Gatorade Arkansas Player of the Year honors — is among the leaders if not at the top of the heap so far when charting rebounding during live portions of practice.
* Steady senior, ready senior. Graduate-transfer Justin Smithcontinues to be a consistent impact player during practices, so much so that sources have confirmed he’s been the most consistent Hog to this point. We previously discussed Smith’s steady and impressive training camp in our Hogville.net Week 6 report: … based on feedback so far he (Smith) has shown consistent ability to make plays at both ends of the floor as he appears to be headed for a huge role in ’20-21. An exceptional athlete with a recorded 48-inch vertical leap, Smith reportedly has been good in both halfcourt and transition scenarios since practice began. And that was the expectation for an incoming veteran who was a significant presence playing for the Hoosiers in the Big 10 for three seasons, but seeing it translate at the performance center in Fayetteville now for six weeks has one observer suggesting Smith could be in line to have another career-best season in terms of production and impact.Smith averaged career highs in scoring (10.4 points per game), rebounding (5.2), and minutes (30.4) as a junior at Indiana in ’19-20.
* Injury update. Junior combo guard J.D. Notae (left wrist injury) returned to practice on a limited basis weeks ago, but he remains in wait-and-see mode regarding medical clearance to return to live, full-contact practice. A source confirmed there is no set timeframe for Notae to resume full practice activities as he continues to recover from the wrist injury.
* Dear Razorback: Musselman is a proven out-of-the-box thinker when it comes to marketing, social media, and team-building activities. The Head Hogs’ latest creative endeavor was to have team members write letters to former Hogs who wore the same jersey number when they were playing at Arkansas. A source confirmed a couple of letter writer-recipient combinations: Musselman wrote to Naismith Hall of Famer and former head coach Nolan Richardson, and Desi Sills (No. 3) wrote a letter to former Hog player and current student-assistant Khalil Garland, who was assigned jersey No. 3 as a freshman in 2017 before a medical condition ended his career before he played a game at Arkansas.
The men’s basketball program is expected to release via social media some if not all of the letter interactions, and it raises several curiosities: Which No. 10 did Jaylin Williams write to: Ron Brewer, Todd Day, Ronnie Brewer, Bobby Portis, or Daniel Gafford? Senior grad-transfer Jalen Tate is vying for significant point guard minutes and will wear No. 11, so did he pen a letter to the Razorbacks’ point guard G.O.A.T., Lee Mayberry who also wore No. 11. Did bouncy junior forward and No. 24-jersey-wearing Ethan Henderson — who by the way has been solid walling off drives defensively during practices according to a source — write a letter to arguably the bounciest Hog ever in Michael Qualls, who also wore No. 24? Did freshman guard KK Robinson (No. 12) write to Clint McDaniel or Kareem Reid, who both wore No. 12 while Hogs in the 1990s?
* Coaching pioneer with ties to Musselman passes away:News circulated last Saturday (Sept. 5) that former San Diego State head basketball coach and former Harlem Globetrotter David “Smokey” Gaines had died, and a review of an old Los Angeles Times game story (dated Dec. 12, 1986) revealed that Musselman — as a player at the University of San Diego (SDSU’s crosstown rival) — was already in the mindset of promotion while Gaines apparently was dismissing the inner city matchup. Following the Toreros’ 83-67 victory over the Aztecs, Musselman and Gaines were of opposite minds, and certainly Musselman’s take was on-point foreshadowing to the kind of promoter he would become as a professional and college head coach.
“I’ll tell you what — this is a rivalry,” San Diego guard Eric Musselman said. “I think it means something to be No. 1 in San Diego. I don’t care what anybody says. We beat them last year, so I would hope they’d want to get us back this year. If more people said it was a rivalry, maybe more people would have been here (there were 3,325 fans in attendance). If a businessman picks up the paper and sees their coach say it isn’t a rivalry, why would the businessman want to come?”
Gaines on the other hand down-played the all-San Diego tilt: “Everyone wants to make a big deal out of USD. It’s not Georgetown-St. John’s or Michigan State-Michigan. I think USD gets much more fired up than we do.”
Gaines, who was named Western Athletic Conference coach of the year in 1985, was the first African-American head coach in California at the NCAA Division 1 level. He was 112-117 as head coach of the Aztecs (1979-1987), and during his time at SDSU he coached West Memphis native and eventual NBA 16-year journeyman Michael Cage.