If you track the greatest periods of success in modern Razorback basketball history, it revolves around clusters of talented players arriving at nearly the same time.
First, I define modern Razorback basketball history as starting when athletic director Frank Broyles hired Eddie Sutton to reinvigorate the program in 1974 until today.
Secondly, I understand why you might be calling me Master of the Obvious after reading the first paragraph of this column. It certainly doesn’t take a genius or even an astute observer to say that a program needs a certain level of talent to be successful.
As former Razorback head basketball coach Nolan Richardson (1985-2002) always said, “Recruiting is the bread line for coaches.”
“Bread” as in the ability to eat, and “bread” as the cash that comes from winning and being a successful college coach.
To continue the metaphor, current Razorback coach Eric Musselman and his staff have been eating like a king and his court the last few days.
The Razorbacks signed five players — two graduate transfers and three highly regarded freshmen — since the opening of the national signing period last Wednesday to add to the signature of 6-4 guard Davonte Davis of Jacksonville who signed with Arkansas last November.
Moses Moody, a 6-6 swingman from North Little Rock, Jaylin Williams, a 6-9 power forward from Fort Smith, and Khalen “KK” Robinson, a 6-0 guard from Bryant, are the four home-grown freshman, while 6-9 forward Vance Jackson from New Mexico and 6-6 wing Jalen Tate from Northern Kentucky are the two grad transfers who will be immediately eligible this fall.
The Hogs might not be finished going through the buffet line, either. Several other grad transfer have Arkansas under consideration.
Currently, there’s no room to add another player to the 13-man roster if rising junior Isaiah Joe opts to return to Arkansas and play a third year of college ball. Joe has submitted his name in the NBA Draft, but he has until early June to make a final decision whether to stay in the draft or return to lead the Hogs next season. Mason Jones is expected to try and make a go at pro ball whether he is drafted or not.
Now, another player could decide to leave the program like Jalen Harris did, who will play his final year as a grad transfer at Georgetown, but it is getting pretty late in the game for that to happen.
No matter what other roster moves are made, Hog fans should be ecstatic about Musselman and his staff’s first recruiting haul with a full season to recruit.
ESPN and CBS/247 ranks the class as sixth in the nation, while Rivals calls it ninth. Those ranking don’t take grad transfers Jackson and Tate into account. No matter how you look at it, Musselman and Co. delivered big time.
Don’t forget transfers Connor Vanover, a 7-3 sophomore forward from Little Rock, Abayomi Iyiola a 6-8 junior forward from Atlanta, and J.D. Notate, a 6-1 guard from Covington, Ga., are also eligible to play this season after sitting out last year.
The only possible complaint anyone could have is that highly regarded 6-6 power forward Chris Moore of West Memphis took his talents to the plains of Auburn instead of signing with the Razorbacks. He’s probably going to be a thorn in the Hogs’ side the next few years playing for Bruce Pearl’s Tigers. However, ideally Musselman is probably looking for a taller athlete to fit into that spot.
Just noting the size of these players and the fact all of them will be eligible to play next season means the two main issues the Razorbacks battled in their 20-12 season won’t be an issue next fall. That’s how you recruit, folks.
Going back to that first paragraph, Sutton built a strong, top-15 if not better program at Arkansas, but his best teams featured home-grown talents Marvin Delph of Conway, Ron Brewer of Fort Smith, and Sidney Moncrief of Little Rock — the fabled Triplets.
Honestly, people forget or don’t understand how great those guys were. Arkansas came out of nowhere to become a major player on the college basketball scene in 1977 and 1978. Their Final Four appearance in 1978 gave the Razorbacks instant clout. Players like Scott Hastings, U.S. Reed, Darrell Walker, Alvin Robertson, Joe Kleine and many others made their way to Arkansas to play for Sutton because of the success of the Triplets and their teammates.
About a decade later in 1989, Todd Day, Lee Mayberry and Oliver Miller arrived together as freshman with junior college transfer Lenzie Howell. None were native Arkansans, but they came to the UA from Memphis, Tulsa, Fort Worth and Dallas and did the program proud. Miller, Day and Mayberry led Arkansas to three Southwest Conference titles, and the Southeastern Conference title during the Hogs’ first year in the league. It’s the only period when the Razorbacks won four consecutive conference titles in the modern era. They also made the 1990 Final Four.
Jump ahead to 1993 when freshmen Corliss Williamson of Russellville and Scotty Thurman of Ruston, La. joined sophomore transfers Corey Beck and Dwight Stewart of Memphis, and sophomore guard Clint McDaniel of Tulsa to form the nucleus of the 1994 national champions and 1995 national runner-up when big men Darnell Robinson and Lee Wilson joined the team.
Their success enticed players like Kareem Reid, Derek Hood, Pat Bradley and Joe Johnson to be Razorbacks.
You see clusters of great players coming together at just the right time with the right coach in charge has always been the secret sauce for Razorback hardwood success. Maybe I’m too optimistic in my quarantine stupor, but things seem to be falling together for another fun period of Arkansas basketball.
Honestly, we don’t know how the 2019-20 Razorback recruiting class is going to shake out. Richardson signed the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation in 1995, but only about half of it ever reached campus.
Living in the current coronavirus culture, nothing seems too certain at the moment.
However, there’s something that just feels right about four very talented young men — all from Arkansas — entering the program that’s undoubtedly on the uptick under Musselman and his staff at the same time.
It gives this old Razorback fan hope for better days and perhaps another trip to the Sweet 16 or maybe even further in the next few years.
That’s worth a hearty Hog Call even during the oddest time of our lives when there is no Razorback sports to cheer for.