Hogs Sweet 16 appearance in San Francisco is for Musselman a sort of homecoming

Nate Allen

FAYETTEVILLE – With his acquired fondness for Fayetteville it doesn’t seem Eric Musselman left his heart in San Francisco.

But the former Golden State Warriors head coach and longtime Bay Area advocate sure left an integral part of his life there. He’s thrilled to revisit it. Especially since his Arkansas Razorbacks take him there. 

At the NCAA Tournament West Subregional in Buffalo. last Thursday and Saturday Musselman’s Razorbacks defeated Vermont, 75-71 and New Mexico State, 53-48. Those victories advance the 27-8  No.4 West seeded Razorbacks to Thursday’s  6 p.m. (CDT) CBS televised West Regional semifinals  vs. best in the West seed/nationally No. 1 Gonzaga at the Chase Center in San Francisco.

“I have so many lifetime friends there,” Musselman told the TNT crew in the immediate aftermath of them televising Saturday’s victory in Buffalo. “My sons grew up there. It’s going to be wild to go back and play there, although it’s a different arena that the Warriors were playing.  But when I found out there were different spots to go to the Sweet Sixteen and San Francisco and the Bay area, there’s nothing better.”

One of Eric’s sons, Michael Musselman, returns with his dad on Arkansas’ staff as director of recruiting.

They will be joined by Eric’s mother and Michael’s grandmother traveling up from San Diego and more friends and relations than Eric can count have been allotted tickets.

Musselman said Monday in Fayetteville the NCAA Tournament “is about the players” but again confessed how much it means bringing his Arkansas team to a place he called home.

To not say that going back to the Bay Area is special would not be truthful,” Musselman, Arkansas’ third-year coach and former University of Nevada coach–after coaching Golden State and Sacramento in the NBA–said. “It is extremely special. My mom has not seen me coach a game at Arkansas. At her age, it’s a little bit problematic to travel and change planes. But living in San Diego, she’s going to be able to come watch us play on Thursday, which is really really cool and extremely special to me. And I have a lot of friends and close, close people that I worked with that are still with the Warriors. Have a lot of people that are coming to the game.”

Too many it seems.

“My ticket requests, I can probably add up every game in the last three years and put every game together and I’ve had more ticket requests for this one game.” Musselman said. “It’s really hard. I have a cousin named Chris ‘Goose’ Anderson. And it’s really painful to tell him to go online and try to buy a ticket, because he’s one of my best friends but I’m out of my allotment. So a shout out to Goose that I can’t hook him up with tickets, but I’m out. 

They only give you so many tickets, man.”

Razorbacks Stanley Umude and Jaylin Williams said during Monday’s Zoom press conference, that they know what it means to Musselman to prove you can come home again.

“Actually, when we were leaving Buffalo, he asked us if we wanted to go straight to San Francisco from there,” Umude said. “We kind of wanted to come back and get settled in a little bit. But we know he’s going to be excited to be playing back in his hometown area.”

Williams said Razorbacks assistants Gus Argenal and Clay Mosier also have Arkansas roots and Moses Moody, the one and done freshman star of last year’s Arkansas Elite Eight team, resides there playing for Golden State.

Williams, the former Fort Smith Northside star, said it’s not just those returning home thrilled to see the Golden Gate.

“I’m excited to go there, too,” Williams said.  “I’ve never been to San Francisco.  It’s good to be there as part of the 16 teams that have made it this far.”

Experiencing San Francisco will be great but Arkansas’ players and staff know Priority One is somehow overcoming No. 1 Gonzaga and then, if successful, prevailing in Saturday’s Elite Eight ticket to the Final Four game between Thursday’s semifinal of No. 2 seed Duke and No. 3 seed Texas Tech.

Monday’s practice at the Eddie Sutton Practice facility may have been the week’s most important preparation for Gonzaga, formally known as the Bulldogs but better known as the Zags.

The plans for the charter flight west still weren’t formalized, Musselman said when meeting with media Monday afternoon.

Now we practice today and we still don’t know what time we leave tomorrow,” Musselman said.

Whenever they arrive, Musselman knows what awaits in Coach Mark Few’s Zags.

“They present a lot problems,” Musselman said. “That’s why they’re the number one seed. We have a real challenge ahead of us in a lot of different areas, both offensively and defensively.”

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