FAYETTEVILLE – Viewing one Eric Musselman coached practice Thursday on Arkansas’ basketball Media Day denotes many changes from the previous Mike Anderson regime.
At least one aspect hasn’t changed. Isaiah Joe, the now sophomore Razorbacks guard via Fort Smith Northside, still takes more charges than American Express.
Joe cashing in on taking charges seems just as appreciated in Musselman’s all man-to-man halfcourt defense as it was in Anderson’s multiple pressing defenses.
“Taking charges is part of the game,” Joe said.
“It gets you the ball back and get you a foul on another player. It’s a big momentum shift to take charges.”
Usually it seems defensive role players like former Razorback Gabe Osabuohien, since transferred to West Virginia, are the chief charge takers takes but Joe stood in front of some basketball versions of freight trains as Arkansas’ best 3-point shooter.
“You have to have a certain amount of pride to take charges,” Joe said. “A lot of people don’t like to take charges but it’s there so why not? It’s lot of pounding on the body but you can get injured doing anything. So you just have to watch out.”
Does he miss the full-court pressing he did last season?
“I miss pressing a little bit but everything has a purpose and it’s just a different scheme,” Joe said. “We are playing a nice, hard halfcourt defense that’s all man to man. It’s different but he has a purpose for everything he does and we listen.”
Conversely, Jimmy Whitt comes Arkansas full circle as a former Razorbacks freshman returned as a graduate transfer. Whitt came from Hickman High School in Columbia, Mo. to Arkansas as a 2015-2016 freshman 6-3 guard under Anderson, transferred to SMU and redshirted under Larry Brown and played two years for the Mustangs improving from his 6.1 and 1.7 scoring and rebounding averages at Arkansas to 10.5 and 5.7 and 12.3 and 6.4.
With Brown parted from SMU, Whitt put his name in the graduate transfer portal and was advised by his brother Marcus, a former graduate assistant to Musselman at the University of Nevada, to give new coach Musselman an Arkansas listen among his graduate transfer options.
“When I had the opportunity my brother said, ‘“I’m not trying to tell you what to do with your life but I really want you talk to him.” Jimmy Whitt recalled. “I came up here and talked to him on an unofficial and I thought, ‘I’m coming back to Arkansas. I texted one of my best friends, Manuale Watkins, and he couldn’t believe it. He was excited.”
Connor Vanover, the 7-3 center from Little Rock and sophomore transfer via the University of California, remains in limbo whether he’ll be a redshirting Razorback or an active one.
Normally transferring as an underclassman from Division 1 school to another necessitates redshirt but Vanover appeals for immediate eligibility because he transferred in part to be closer to his ailing grandmother in Little Rock plus Wyking Jones, his coach at California, was fired after last season.
“Yeah it’s been tough not knowing if I’ll play or not,” Vanover said. “If I can’t and have to redshirt I just want to focus on my body and getting stronger and faster and being able to handle the ball on the floor more and being able to hold my own in the post. Those are things I need to work on.”
Judging watching his one practice, the son of former Lady Razorback center Robyn Irwin (lettering 1986-89) about could challenge 3-point marvel Joe to a game of H-O-R-S-E.
“I’ve always been able to shoot a little bit,” Vanover said. “I can say I got it from my mom. She played here and she’s always had kind of a touch. So when I was growing up my coach let me shoot.”
If Vanover can’t play, 6-8 sophomores Reggie Chaney and Ethan Henderson stand as the tallest Razorbacks on a very small team.
“We are going to have to fight for every board,” Chaney said. “That means everybody is going to have to rebound. The guards are going to have to rebound and I’m going to have to fight for every board.”