Hog Ball is Here!
Top returnees, new coach and impact transfers build excitement for Hog hoops
By Robby Edwards
Photos courtesy of Razorback Communications
Six of the top seven scorers are back for the Arkansas men’s basketball team, which is reason for excitement in itself, but with changes on the bench and to the roster, fans are eagerly anticipating the 2019-20 campaign.
Eric Musselman takes over as head coach following four tremendous seasons at the University of Nevada and 14 years in various professional ranks.
Musselman, whose father Bill was an NBA head coach, posted win totals at Nevada of 24, 28, 29 and 29 from 2016-19, respectively. He has also held head coaching positions with the NBA’s Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings, and with professional clubs in the Continental Basketball Association, United States Basketball League and NBA Developmental League.
His head coaching records are 110-34 in four years at Nevada, 108-138 in three years in the NBA, 270-122 in seven years in the CBA, 53-3 in two years in the USBL and 77-30 in two years in the NBADL.
“The building [Bud Walton Arena] is awesome and the facilities, I was blown away,” Musselman said. “I’ve never seen an institution with such great facilities, then you combine that with fan passion and I think this job is second to none. The chance to win is really big – any coach in the country would want that. Start diving into the tradition, you can win big here, there’s no doubt.”
He takes over for Mike Anderson, who was dismissed following eight years and a 169-102 record.
Comparing last year’s clubs offers insight into what to expect from Musselman’s teams. Arkansas scored 75.3 points per game, allowed 72.3, forced more turnovers than Nevada, but lost the ball more, had a negative rebounding margin (-4.6) and had more steals and blocked shots. Nevada scored 80.1 points per game and shot slightly better from the field, allowed 66.8 points a game with a better defensive field goal percentage and had a positive rebounding margin (+2.5).
“We have to be the hardest-playing team in basketball,” Musselman said of his style and philosophy. “You have to gain the respect of opponents, boosters and alumni, and you do that by playing for 40 minutes with great energy and enthusiasm. Our offensive style is pace and space. We like to shoot threes. Analytics will tell you shooting threes and free throws is a good thing. Because there’s so much freedom there, we’re going to be more structured on the other end.”
In the same number of games last year, the Wolf Pack shot 104 more three-pointers than the Hogs and made 38 more, and shot 47 more free throws and made 64 more.
Despite the loss of Associated Press honorable mention All-American Daniel Gafford, a second-round pick of the Chicago Bulls in the 2019 NBA Draft who averaged 16.9 points and 8.7 rebounds, Musselman inherits an experienced group.
Sophomore guard Isaiah Joe, junior guard Mason Jones, junior guard Jalen Harris, senior forward Adrio Bailey, sophomore forward Reggie Chaney and sophomore guard Desi Sills return after averaging 51.4 of the team’s 75.3 points for last year’s 18-16 squad, which reached the second round of the National Invitation Tournament, or NAIA.
“I believe Mike Anderson accumulated talent and a lot of young players,” Musselman said. “Players usually make great leaps after their freshman year, and we feel like we have to set high goals. Our goal is to make the NCAA tournament this season, and it should be the goal every year. I think that’s how our players feel.”
Joe (13.9 ppg) was named SEC All-Freshman after setting a school record and tying the conference record with 113 three-point buckets. His total is the fourth-best mark by a freshman in NCAA history.
Jones (13.6 ppg) was second on the team in rebounds, assists and steals, and third in scoring. He scored game-winning points with two seconds left against Indiana and 22 seconds left against LSU.
Harris (7.6 ppg, 5.6 assists per game) was 15th in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (+2.86).
Even with that returning group, Musselman didn’t waste any time adding to his roster.
Six veteran transfers joined the team over the summer, including junior Abayomi Iyiola, a 6-9 forward from Stetson University; junior JD Notae, a 6-2 guard from Jacksonville University; senior Isaiah Moss, a 6-5 guard from University of Iowa; sophomore Connor Vanover, a 7-3 center from Little Rock who was at University of California – Berkeley; senior Jeantal Cylla, a 6-7 forward from North Carolina-Wilmington; and 6-3 senior guard Jimmy Whitt from SMU.
Cylla averaged 13.7 points and 4.6 rebounds as a junior at UNC-Wilmington. Iyiola led Stetson in scoring (10.8) and rebounding (7.6) as a sophomore. Moss earned Iowa’s Most Improved Player Award after averaging 9.2 points as a junior. Notae earned second-team All-Atlantic Sun Conference honors after averaging 15.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.4 assists as a sophomore. Vanover, who played at Arkansas Baptist Prep before going to Findley (Nevada) Prep as a senior, averaged 7.5 points and 3.0 rebounds as a freshman. Whitt averaged 12.3 points and a team-high 6.4 rebounds as a junior at SMU.
Iyiola, Notae and Vanover must sit out the 2019-20 season as transfers while Cylla, Moss and Whitt are immediately eligible as graduate transfers.
“Transfers were a big part of the success we had at Nevada, but not enough people talk about the incoming freshmen,” Musselman said. “We did recruit high schools, and we believe this state has tremendous high school talent and look forward to recruiting Arkansas kids heavily.”