By Robby Edwards | Photos courtesy of Razorback Communications
Razorback Basketball Features Musselman Mix of Returnees with Veteran Newcomers
Not long ago, when a basketball team lost three starters and eight lettermen from one year to the next, fans could expect a transition season. In the age of the transfer portal with head coach Eric Musselman’s ability to mix and match pieces and parts, it’s time to learn new names and see what Arkansas basketball accomplishes this year.
The Razorbacks advanced to the Sweet 16 of last year’s NCAA Tournament, ended the year ranked No. 21 in the final coaches’ poll and went 22-14. The Hogs have won at least 20 games for four straight years and have a Southeastern Conference-best 95 wins over that span. A fourth straight NCAA tourney run may require Musselman Magic.
“Every year is different,” the fifth-year head coach said before the start of fall practice. “It’s really helped having the returners back. Having returners along with (transfer) veterans who have played a lot of college basketball games — it’s different. With experience, you can do things a little bit differently. We’ve been able to accelerate some of our schemes, but there’s no comparison ever of teams other than what can this group execute and then move on to the next step or different phase. We’ve gotten in a lot more right now than we have in the past, and it’s a combination of a whole bunch of things.”
Starters Anthony Black (12.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists), Ricky Council (16.1 ppg), and combo starters Jordan Walsh (7.1 ppg) and Nick Smith (12.5 ppg) are gone, along with four other lettermen.
Two starters — senior guard Devo Davis and 6-10 senior forward/center Makhi Mitchell — are back. Returning lettermen include 6-10 sophomore forward Trevon Brazile, 6-10 senior forward Jalen Graham and 6-5 sophomore forward Joseph Pinion.
Davis, 6-4, started 31 of 35 games, averaging 10.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists. Mitchell started 31 of 36 games, averaging 7.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocked shots.
“It’s really hard when you assign a guy the best player on the other team, and he’s holding that guy under his (scoring) average,” Musselman said. “The bulk of the plays are run at you, and you’re fighting off screens, and you’re on an island and isolated. What Devo has done is insane.”
An SEC All-Defensive Team selection, Davis averaged 12.5 points and 4.8 rebounds over the last 24 games.
Brazile, limited to the first nine games before a season-ending knee injury last season, averaged 11.8 points and 6.0 rebounds off the bench. Graham added 5.2 points in just over nine minutes per game off the bench. Pinion contributed 2.4 points in 26 games.
Nine newcomers, including seven transfers, join that group. First-timers on the Muss Buss include Khalif Battle from Temple, Keyon Menifield from Washington, El Ellis from Louisville, Denijay Harris from Southern Mississippi, Chandler Lawson from Memphis, Tramon Mark from Houston, Jeremiah Davenport from Cincinnati, and freshmen Layden Blocker and Baye Fall.
“When you get into the transfer portal, you try to study how a player did analytically, how he did in league play and how he did against top-20 teams,” Musselman said. “You try to figure out what a guy can do in clutch situations. We’ve studied the guys we got and even the guys we didn’t get.”
Battle is a 6-5 guard with two years to play, Menifield a 6-1 guard with three years, Ellis a 6-3 guard with one year, Harris a 6-7 forward with one year, Lawson a 6-8 forward with one year, Mark a 6-6 guard with three years and Davenport a 6-6 guard with one year. Menifield will sit out the year as a redshirt.
Blocker is a 6-2 guard from Little Rock, and Fall is a 6-11 forward from Senegal who prepped in Denver.
Six-ten forward Trevon Brazile started 22 of 24 games at Missouri two years ago, averaging 6.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.92 blocked shots
Jalen Graham made 65.5% of his shots last year, the seventh-best percentage in school history
Last year at Temple, Battle led the Owls with 17.9 points a game with 13 20-point outings. He was 10th in the NCAA with an .898 free-throw percentage, and fourth in the American Athletic Conference in scoring, second in 3-pointers per game (2.85) and sixth in 3-point percentage (.350).
Ellis was honorable mention All-Atlantic Coast Conference after leading Louisville with 17.7 points and 4.4 assists per game. He was second in the conference in minutes played and third in scoring.
Harris improved from 2.9 points and 2.3 rebounds two years ago to 8.9 points and 5.7 rebounds last year, helping the Golden Eagles go 28-5 with a Sun Belt Conference regular-season title.
Lawson averaged 5.0 points and was second with 4.5 rebounds per game last year for the Tigers. He played his first two seasons at Oregon before transferring to Memphis.
Mark started all 37 games at Houston last year, and averaged 10.1 points and 4.9 rebounds. In the NCAA Tournament second-round win over Auburn, he scored a career-high 26 points.
Davenport averaged 9.1 points and 4.2 rebounds for the Bearcats. As a junior, he averaged 13.4 points and 5.5 rebounds, and 11.7 points and 5.0 rebounds as a sophomore. He led Cincinnati in 3-pointers during two different seasons and has scored 1,060 career points. He led the AAC with the fewest number of turnovers, just 24 in more than 900 minutes played.
Blocker is a four-star recruit ranked the No. 24 overall prospect in the nation by Rivals and No. 31 overall by ESPN. He prepped at Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas. As a sophomore, he played at Little Rock Christian and averaged 20.0 points per game.
Fall is also a four-star recruit ranked the No. 28 overall prospect by 247Sports and No. 29 by ESPN. A 2023 McDonald’s All-American, he averaged 14.9 points and 9.4 rebounds at the 2022 National Basketball Players Association top 100 camp.
“Roles are being formulated in the coaching staff and probably in the player’s minds,” Musselman said. “Whoever we are in November, just like in the past, we hope we’re much different in March. That could be rotation, player-wise or it could be set plays. We still have a lot to figure out, but it’s been a really good summer as far as working.”