By Otis Kirk
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead and never trailed and finished with a 108-59 victory over Valencia Seleccion in the Razorbacks first of four games on their foreign tour of Spain and Italy.
Eric Musselman was obviously pleased to see the Hogs stretch that lead out to 35-18 after one quarter while on their way to an easy win.
“I was happy with a lot of things,” Musselman said. “It also gives us a really good barometer, too, of things we have to work on. I thought we were really, really undisciplined defensively. We’ve got to become much more solid defensively. But I’m happy with the fact that I thought we played really, really, really, really, really hard. So happy with that for sure.”
It was Musselman’s first opportunity to see his team with only two scholarship players returning from last season. Musselman got a technical and asked if that was in English or Spanish?
“Started off in English, ended up in Spanish,” Musselman said.
Nick Smith Jr. was one of the prizes from the past recruiting class and though he didn’t start the talented guard went for 21 points to lead the Razorbacks while also adding six rebounds and five assists. Not bad for someone who wasn’t even sure if he would play after injuring a finger just before leaving for Europe. Musselman talked about Smith’s play and health.
“I thought Nick did a really good job,” Musselman said. “He sat out the last week of practice. He had the doctor’s appointment on Friday afternoon, but we had a practice Friday morning so the guys would be off their legs a little bit.
“I thought he played really good. He got a little bit careless with the basketball, as our whole team did. We have 11 turnovers. At least according to (Mike) Cawood. But I don’t know how accurate that is. I thought we shared the ball and Nick provided a real scoring punch for us as well.”
Smith talked about how his finger was doing.
“The finger was good,” Smith said. “I had a lot of concerns. Our trainer Matt (Townsend) had a lot of concerns about what I did to it (last) Monday. It’s part of the game. Just had to sit out for practice. I feel like we played good today. I feel like we didn’t play very disciplined today on the defensive end, but it was the first game of the season and we’ll get back to it Thursday.”
The game marked the first as a Razorback for Smith. He reflected back on how he felt the flow went in his game.
“Coming into the game I just wanted to come in and play hard,” Smith said. “That was one of Coach’s goals was just to work on our stuff. I feel like we executed well, but I still feel like on the defensive end we could play a lot better, just being more disciplined. It’s going to be key for the rest of this season.”
Smith showed off his quarterback skills at the beach and thus gave fans an early indication the finger was going to be fine. Smith said the team is having fun in addition to playing basketball games.
“We’re having some fun, for sure,” Smith said. “We came down here, our hotel is across the street from the beach, so of course we’re going to have a little fun. But at the end of the day when it’s time to play, this team has a quick enough switch to where we can lock in and focus on what we were here to do. But at the same time we’re going to have fun. Coach Muss wants to have fun, everybody on the coaching staff is having fun and everybody on the team is bonding together. I feel like it’s a great trip for us later down the line. We’re going to need it, need the bond with the coaching staff and the players. It’s a fun trip, but we came here to play basketball games, so that’s what we’re looking forward to.”
Musselman has made it a point to have fun on the trip, but he also liked how when it came time to get down to business the team did it.
“It’s really interesting, with six freshmen, with only two returners, I was not worried,” Musselman said. “Today, we did a shoot around right by the beach. We did an activity that’ll be out on social media tomorrow. We played dodgeball on the beach. We played volleyball in the water with no net. But I trusted that they would get off their feet at 2 o’clock. We had a team meal at 2 o’clock and they got a little bit of rest and they came out and played like they should play. But we are having fun. We are focused. We ran through all of our sets on the beach. We ran through some defensive coverage out on an outdoor court. So we’re working over here, as well, but we certainly are having a lot of fun, I can promise you that.”
Some other key statistics from the Hogs included Trevon Brazile, who was 5-of-5 from the field, and Kamani Johnson, who had five offensive rebounds, each scored 12 points. Ricky Council IV added 11 points and Barry Dunning Jr., had 10. Johnson led the way with nine total rebounds and Council contributed eight. Anthony Black dished out a team-best seven assists with five rebounds. Jordan Walsh had a well-rounded line with nine points, five rebounds, four assists, two steals and a blocked shot.
Johnson is one of two returning scholarship Razorbacks. Musselman liked what the big man gave him on Tuesday.
“I thought Kamani did a fabulous job for sure,” Johnson said. “He played hard. He came off the bench and played with great energy. I thought he played really, really well, which is what we need from a returning player.”
Musselman likes after weeks of practice getting to see his players in action and now has tape to watch.
“I thought defensively we just gambled way too much,” Musselman said. “We have to become way more solid. Our athleticism was obviously too much for our opponent. But having said that, we’ve got to understand when to gamble, when not to gamble. I think our players played really, really hard. And, again, we’ll have tape now to evaluate.”
Smith was asked who stood out to him in the game?
“Everybody on the team played their role,” Smith said. “That’s what we came in and wanted to do. AB had a couple passes, Jordan Walsh came in and played hard, Devo (Davis) came in and had a couple passes. I feel like the whole team played good. I feel like the whole team can play better as well, and it was just the first game, so hopefully Thursday we’ll be better and later down the line we’ll be better, for sure.”
Arkansas will travel to Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday morning and play Barcelona Todo-Estrella on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. CT.