By Kevin McPherson
LITTLE ROCK — Maybe the dust has finally settled on Arkansas’s recruiting for the class of 2019, maybe not, but if Razorbacks head coach Eric Musselman’s college-transfer shopping spree has indeed ended the Hogs have five veteran additions that appear ready to make an impact.
Three graduate-transfers and two traditional transfers visited Fayetteville and committed to Arkansas in roughly a five-week span (late April to late May), and here we take a look at the newcomers and what each brings as Musselman looks to infuse veteran experience with the nine returning scholarship players who helped make up the youngest team in college basketball last season …
* Jeantal Cylla … 6-7 forward; grad-transfer from North Carolina-Wilmington; immediate eligibility in 2019-20; averaged 13.7 points and 4.6 rebounds in 28.2 minutes per game and shot 42.7% field goals — including 31.1% from 3 while averaging one make per game from distance — and 84.8% free throws as a fourth-year junior in ’18-19; chose the Hogs over offers and interest from Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Oregon State … What stands out on tape: Cylla’s catch-and-shoot and one-dribble-and-shoot offensive game pops, as does his craftiness getting to and finishing around the basket … Projecting fit in Muss’s pace-and-space offense: With the stated goals being to put multiple 3-point shooting options on the floor along with getting close-range shots and free-throw opportunties, Cylla checks a lot of boxes and his efficiency (field goals, 3-pointers, and free throws) from a season ago are head-and-shoulders better than the other combo-3/4 options on the roster … Early reports from practice and/or pick-up games: Disclaimer that it’s very early, but initial reports are that Cylla has stood out and impressed as both a shooter and handler (think defensive rebound and push, as well as shot creation) … Role projection for ’19-20: Starter or 6th man.
* Connor Vanover … 7-3 stretch-5; freshman-transfer from California-Berkeley; will sit out a transfer-redshirt season in ’19-20 unless granted a waiver by the NCAA for immediate eligibility; started 15 of 28 games in ’18-19 and averaged 7.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks in 17.5 minutes while shooting 46.9% field goals, including 35.5% from 3, and 66.7% free throws as a freshman at Cal (his per-40-minute numbers were 17.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.4 blocks); chose the Hogs over offers and interest from Vanderbilt, Maryland, and others … What stands out on tape: Vanover’s quick release and efficiency from 3 make him unique for someone his size, and his shooting touch with a couple of back-to-the-basket pet moves make him a weapon both in the low- and mid-post, effective rim-protector … Projecting fit in Muss’s pace-and-space offense: Vanover’s ability to shoot all the way out to the 3-point line will not only give Musselman another perimeter weapon, but pulling the opponent’s big away from the basket will help clear out the lane for slashers, plus Vanover is a good passer, and regardless of the systems he’s played in or the minutes he’s gotten Vanover has typically been productive and that will be important as Musselman looks for reliable and consistent contributors … Role projection for ’19-20: If he’s granted a waiver for immediate eligibility, Vanover could be a starter or at minimum earn a role in the top 8 rotation.
* Isaiah Moss … 6-5 wing; grad-transfer from Iowa; immediate eligibility in ’19-20; started all 35 games in ’18-19 and averaged 9.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 1.8 assists in 24.1 minutes while shooting 48-of-114 from 3 (42.1% which was fourth in the Big 10) and 79.1% free throws as a fourth-year junior at Iowa in ’18-19; chose the Hogs over offers and interest from Kansas, Arizona State, Oregon, Louisville, Cincinnati, Minnesota, Iowa State, and Illinois … What stands out on tape: A confident 3-point shooter who can create his own shot at multiple levels, a good athlete with length who flashes promise as a slasher … Projecting fit in Muss’s pace-and-space offense: Moss is an efficient perimeter threat with good size which seems to fit the pattern of the type of player Musselman leaned on to win at a high level at Nevada, plus Moss appears to be bring craft in his middle game that will force defenses to account for him inside the arc, and hovering around 80% as a free throw shooter checks another box in an offense that looks to cash in on freebies … Role projection for ’19-20:Starter.
* JD Notae … 6-2 combo guard; sophomore-transfer from Jacksonville; will sit out a transfer-redshirt season in ’19-20; Second team All ASUN in ’18-19 after averaging 15.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.6 steals in 31.4 minutes while shooting 42.7% field goals (including 32.0% from 3) plus 73.0% free throws through 32 games as a sophomore for the Dolphins (had a 40-point game as well as a triple-double last season); chose the Hogs over offers and interest from Seton Hall, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Western Kentucky, Creighton, Buffalo, North Carolina-Greensboro, and others … What stands out on tape: A tough, gritty competitor who finds multiple ways to impact the game — whether scoring the ball, rebounding, facilitating, or being a dog on defense … Projecting fit in Muss’s pace-and-space offense: A tough, jack-of-all trades producer fits in any system, his overall shooting efficiency gets a passing grade, and Notae will have a redshirt season to learn and adapt to Musselman’s philosophies … Role projection for ’19-20: Sit out mandatory transfer-redshirt season.
* Jimmy Whitt, Jr. … 6-3 point guard; grad-transfer from SMU who played his freshman season at Arkansas in ’15-16; immediate eligiblity in ’19-20; started all 30 games in ’18-19 and averaged 12.3 points per game, 6.4 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 1.4 steals in 35.1 minutes while shooting 48.8% field goals (including 14.3% from 3) and 56.8% free throws as a fourth-year junior at SMU; chose the Hogs over offers and interest from Gonzaga, Virginia Tech, Texas A&M, Oregon, and others … What stands out on tape: A quick, bouncy slasher with plus-arm-length who finishes at a high clip, a tireless rebounder, a dependable facilitator, and a tough defender … Projecting fit in Muss’s pace-and-space offense: Not everybody has to be a 3-point shooter in this offense, and ball movement via the pass won’t be the only effective way to make the defense work as Whitt’s driving and slashing ability will create opportunities for him and others, his offensive rebounding (2.1 per game last season) will be a plus from the backcourt, and his ability to run out in transition or get behind a halfcourt defense and finish above the rim will bring an added dimension to the offense … Role projection for ’19-20: Starter.
Arkansas boasts biggest haul of ESPN.com Top 50 grad-transfers: Arkansas has the most grad-transfers (3) — Isaiah Moss (No. 19), Jimmy Whitt (No. 23), and Jeantal Cylla (No. 44) — out of the 50 who made ESPN.com’s list of the best available for immediate playing eligibility in 2019-20. North Carolina, Texas Tech, Southern California, and Central Florida were next with two each.
Arkansas’s opponents for all 18 SEC games are known and a few tidbits about the non-conference slate: The Southeastern Conference recently released its men’s conference opponents for the 2019-20 season … Arkansas will host games against Auburn, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M, and Vanderbilt … Arkansas will play road games against Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Missouri, Tennessee, and Texas A&M … this means that in addition to the Hoop Hogs’ annual home-and-away series against Texas A&M, Missouri, and LSU, for ’19-20 they’ll also rotate in home-and-away series against Tennessee and Mississippi State … it also means the Hogs will host six of the seven teams that finished in the top half of the league in ’18-19 … Arkansas will play non-conference road games against Indiana, Georgia Tech, and Western Kentucky … Arkansas will host a Big 12 opponent (likely in January 2020) as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
Per sources, don’t be surprised if Arkansas: a) adds at least one more high-major opponent to its non-conference home schedule; b) plays another Conference USA opponent in its annual December game at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock (last season, the Hogs defeated C-USA’s Texas-San Antonio in North Little Rock); and c) hosts at least one opponent from each of these two highly regarded mid-major conferences — the American Athletic Conference and the Mountain West Conference (last season, Arkansas won a road game against Colorado State of the MWC).
Gafford update with 2019 NBA Draft fast-approaching: Former Arkansas big man Daniel Gafford (6-11 forward / center, El Dorado native) followed his NBA Draft Combine participation last month with workouts at Detroit, Oklahoma City, Atlanta, and Charlotte … upcoming workouts could include stops at Indiana, Boston, and Orlando … the 2019 NBA Draft will be held June 20 at the Barclays Center in New York … Gafford is generally projected to be selected anywhere from the mid-first round to early second round … Gafford is expected to be the first Razorback drafted since 2015 when Little Rock native and 2014-15 SEC Player of the Year Bobby Portis was selected 22nd overall in the first round by the Chicago Bulls.