FAYETTEVILLE – An empty gym and empty media room haven’t prevented Arkansas Basketball Coach Eric Musselman holding a phantom practice with his Razorbacks and a phantom press conference with Arkansas media.
Reaction to the coronavirus pandemic national emergency cancelling the SEC Tournament sent his Razorbacks back to Fayetteville on March 12, after their March 11 SEC Tournament first round victory over Vanderbilt and then dispersed to their homes with not only their sport but all collegiate sports cancelled through the entire 2020 spring semester and through June.
Musselman both lightened the mood and kept the Razorbacks prominent in social media with his video parodies conducting a practice without player and the press conference addressing media regularly covering the Razorbacks though of course none of us were there.
Musselman was due some levity after having to tell his Hogs upon their 20th victory that not only their long shot NCAA Tournament bid had ended but their entire season starting with the second round SEC Tournament game against South Carolina they were supposed to play that March 12 night.
“You know, when I first started giving the speech it was kind of factual,” Musselman said. “Then when I started looking at guys and kind of the shock in their faces and started thinking back to you know the vision that we had sold and the goals that we had come together as a group. It was probably without a question the hardest speech that I ever had to give a team.”
Keeping contact with his players gone home and receiving assurances they are healthy and safe, keeping up with the ever overflowing transfer portal, reviewing film, even NBA film searching for innovations on incorporating 2019-2020 redshirting 7-2 sophomore Connor Vanover into next season’s scheme, all keep him at a workaholic pace.
“I mean it is our job,” Musselman said. “We are still working even if we are not working in the normal office environment, but we are still working around the clock. Last night, I didn’t put the phone down until 11:30. It was the first night in awhile that I did not watch a TV show with my wife because the number of the people in the transfer portal and we’re calling our own recruits, we are calling our own players so we are actually on the phone. I have been on the phone more in the last week that maybe I have of five years of being in college basketball.”
The calls that most interested media on the Musselman teleconference that the UA conducted Thursday, concerned junior guard and SEC Co-Player of the Year Mason Jones and Isaiah Joe, the sophomore guard via Fort Smith Northside leading the SEC in 3-point shooting. Have either or both expressed interest in testing the NBA waters which can be tested through the NCAA and NBA’s cooperative evaluation process leaving an option to return to school?
“I’ve reached out to both of them and just said, ‘Hey, whatever you guys or thinking or whenever you want to talk or discuss those things, we’re here for you,” Musselman said. “Communicated with both parents as well. But I think right now everything is on such a holding pattern across the board for everybody. You know the process this year is gonna be much different than it has in the past.”
Musselman was asked more about his heralded two underclassmen and noted no NBA team wants to put anybody on a plane to fly to individual workouts at this stage of the national emergency.
“Whatever Mason and Isaiah want to do, we’re here to support them,” Musselman said. “We’re here to gather as much information as they want us to gather. They can gather information on their own as well. But, again, I think it’s just too much speculation right now, because no one knows when an NBA Draft date is going to even be. I think if they decided to come back, I think they’d both be two of the best players in the country and I think their role would be incredible on our team. If it’s a different decision, then we’re here to do whatever we can to help them.”