FAYETTEVILLE – Pondering since the spring whether to return to the University of Arkansas and the Razorbacks for his junior year or turn professional in the National Basketball Association draft, shooting guard and former Fort Smith Northside star Isaiah Joe announced Saturday he’s returning to the UA and Coach Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks.
“The dream continues during this (coronavirus) quarantine,.” Joe posted Saturday on Twitter. “With that being said, there is a lot to accomplish and I believe it all starts here as an Arkansas Razorback.”
Joe, 6-5 and a nationally renowned 3-point and free throw shooter, had submitted his name to the originally scheduled June draft postponed indefinitely by the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.
Joe had until Monday’s deadline after interviewing with various NBA teams to decide whether irrevocably to declare for the draft or withdraw his name without signing with an agent to retain his collegiate eligibility.
““We are so excited to have Isaiah back,” Musselman said in a statement issued through the UA. “He received incredible feedback from the NBA and got valuable experience with NBA interviews. We know how hard of a decision this was for Isaiah and his family. Zai’s goal is to have a long NBA career and we can’t wait to continue helping him reach his dream.”
Recruited by the previous Mike Anderson Razorbacks regime, Joe starting every game averaged 13.9 points and 2.8 rebounds for Anderson’s 18-16 Razorbacks that ended their 2018-2019 season two rounds into the Postseason NIT.
For Musselman’s 20-12 Razorbacks ending the 2019-2020 season nationally terminated in mid March by the COVID-19 outbreak, Joe averaged 16.9 points and 4.1 rebounds.
Injured during the SEC campaign, Joe missed six games, with five consecutively upon undergoing Feb. 4 knee surgery. Joe returned to start the last six scoring 21, 22, 26, 11, 22 and 18 in SEC games against Missouri, Tennessee, Georgia, LSU, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt.
Including the first round SEC Tournament victory over Vanderbilt in Nashville before the season’s COVID-19 termination the following day, the Razorbacks went 4-2 on Joe’s return after skidding 0-5 the consecutive games.
In 2018-2019 Joe set a school record making 113 3-pointers tying the SEC freshman record. Joe sank 94 treys for his 26 games last season with one scoreless when the ailing knee quickly benched him again Alabama.
Joe sank 81 of 91 free throws last season including the last 34 without missing.
Far from being strictly an offensive force, Joe for two seasons has led the Razorbacks in taking charges and was the team’s steals leader (51) for his 34 games in 2018-2019 and in 26 games second with 36 to since turned pro All-SEC guard Mason Jones (51), also first to Joe’s second in scoring.
Throughout the season Joe was praised by Musselman for his tenacious man to man defense.
Joe’s return gives Musselman three active scholarship lettermen from last season with junior guard Desi Sills of Jonesboro and junior forward Ethan Henderson of Little Rock Parkview.
Practicing with the Razorbacks last season as redshirting transfers now eligible are sophomore center Connor Vanover via the University of California, junior guard JD Notae of Jacksonville University and junior forward Abayomi Iyiola via Stetson University.
Iyiola’s 2020-2021 availability is in doubt. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in a knee working out this summer and is expected to be idled five to six months.
Notae recently injured his left wrist but is expected to resume workouts in three weeks.
Musselman has said he is “thrilled” with his nationally rated 2020-2021 recruiting class including proven graduate transfer forwards Vance Jackson via the University of New Mexico and Justin Smith via Indiana University and graduate transfer point guard and Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year Jalen Tate via Northern Kentucky University, and four nationally rated incoming instate freshmen, forward Jaylin Williams of Fort Smith Northside and guards KK Robinson of Bryant and Oak Hill (Va.) Academy, Moses Moody of Little Rock and Monteverde (Fla.) Academy and Davonte Davis of Jacksonville.
Photos courtesy of Craven Whitlow, CW3, Sports Action