FAYETTEVILLE – Even if Arkansas Razorbacks Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek hadn’t rescinded the Razorbacks’ policy of not scheduling instate schools for athletic events, Arkansas Men’s Basketball Coach Eric Musselman asserts an exception should have been made for Saturday’s Razorbacks vs. University of Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans game.
Nationally AP 10th-ranked Arkansas, 7-0, of the SEC and the Sun Belt Conference’s UALR, 4-4 and in recent years preferring to call itself Little Rock, meet at 3 p.m. Saturday at Walton Arena televised by the SEC Network.
Musselman said under any circumstances an exception should have been made because of the Trojans’ exceptional coach. Darrell Walker is among the all-time most exceptional Razorbacks, an All-American and All-Southwest Conference guard during his 1981-83 seasons lettering under the late Eddie Sutton.
Walker went on to a pro basketball career spanned from 1983-2014. He played 10 years. He coached from 1995-2014 including head coaching the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards, the Rockford Lightning in the CBA and the Washington Mystics in the WNBA.
Initially finishing his Razorbacks tenure without a UA degree, Walker came back to graduate with Eddie and Patsy Sutton proudly attending his commencement.
With the degree Walker could coach college ball, first at Clark University and then come home to Little Rock, always Darrell and wife Lisa’s offseason home regardless where he played or coached.
“Let’s face it,” Musselman said. “He’s one of the greatest players in the history of this University of Arkansas program. If he wants to bring his team to Fayetteville to play, that should happen because Coach Walker meant so much to the history of Razorback basketball.”
Walker and Musselman crossed paths professionally many times. Musselman compiled a long career coaching as both head coach and assistant in the NBA, including head coaching the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings, and various professional minor league and international teams.
Musselman said he has an obvious “comfort level,” with Walker, whose Trojans played the Razorbacks in a preseason exhibition game two seasons ago beginning Musselman’s first UA season, and a comfort level playing the University of Central Arkansas. Musselman’s Razorbacks defeated UCA both last season and last Wednesday night at Walton.
“Both programs really great at communicating with us to make these two games this week happen,” Musselman said. “The communication, the camaraderie between UCA and Little Rock and our men’s basketball programs in my opinion and in our staff’s opinion, we’ve got really, really good synergy between the programs.”
That UA vs. UALR exhibition two seasons ago wasn’t the first time that Musselman and Walker coached against each other as college coaches.
“We actually played against Coach Walker and Little Rock when I was at Nevada as well,” Musselman said. “Obviously I’ve got incredible respect for Coach Walker. He’s a tough-minded guy whether it was teams he coached in the NBA, whether it’s Little Rock, they always compete.”
Interviewed the Monday before the Hogs beat UCA, 97-60 Wednesday night, Musselman nonetheless was well versed on the Trojans.
“They’ve got two guys that can shoot it. No. 11, (Marko Andric of Serbia) their point guard, and No. 5, their backup point guard (CJ White of Little Rock Parkview transferred back home from SMU). Both those guys can make threes,” Musselman said.
Their starting off guard, 33, (Jovan Stulic of Serbia) can shoot the basketball. Backup power forward (Marko Lucic of Serbia) can shoot the ball. No. 25 (6-10 center Nikola Maric of Bosnia-Herzegovina) is kind of their go-to scorer. He scores the ball, he rebounds at a high level. Then like I said, defending the three with those four guys in particular.”
Nikola Maric, 12.8, leads the Trojans in scoring.
Isaiah Palermo, DeAntoni Gordon, formerly of Wichita State, and Stulic score next highest averaging , 12.3, 10.4, 10.1.
The Trojans lost their last two games 86-55 at Colorado State and 77-63 at Tulsa.
Among their victories are 69-66 in Little Rock over Southern Illinois and 67-60 over Northern Illinois in the consolation game of the Jacksonville Classic in Jacksonville, Fla.
One of Musselman’s Razorbacks transfer reserve forward Kamani Johnson of Brooklyn, N.Y., lettered for Walker’s Trojans in 2018-2019 and and 2019-2020 and in 2020 was third-team All-Sun Belt.
Johnson redshirted last season transferring to the
Razorbacks. This season he’s come off the bench behind starting forwards Jaylin Williams and Au’Diese Toney and top reserve Stanley Umude.
For his part, Musselman on Saturday looks for more of the second half Hogs he saw blow away UCA than the first half Hogs struggling to lead, 41-35 at intermission even with one 11-0 first-half surge.
“Night and day the way we played from one half to the other,” Musselman said opening his postgame address. “I probably was as frustrated as I’ve been in the first half. The second half, very happy with how we played.”