Musselman talks after first Hogs basketball practice of 22-23 season

Razorback freshman guard Nick Smith Jr. (#3) from Jacksonville, AR brings the ball up the court at practice in Fayetteville, AR.

By Otis Kirk

The University of Arkansas opened with its first practice for the 2022-23 basketball season.

Eric Musselman is set to begin his fourth season as head coach. He has a record of 73-28 with the Razorbacks. The Hogs got a headstart on the season by playing four games in Europe in August. Musselman feels one part of Arkansas’ game is ahead of the other.

“I think our defense, for sure, is ahead of our offense,” Musselman said. “It probably was overseas and probably still is today, but we still, like I said, I mean, I’ve got to have a little more patience with this group maybe than some other groups. When you have Jalen Tate out there or have Jimmy Whitt, those guys were basically fifth-year guys, so you tell them once or twice and it gets implemented — even Justin Smith. With younger players and with a younger group and a newer group, we’re repeating ourselves a lot, more so than any team I’ve ever coached. With that comes a little bit of patience, and hopefully there will be growth from September to October. We’ve got to get a lot better than where we are.”

Musselman talked about where the team has made the most improvement since the last game in Europe.

“I think we’ve improved kind of understanding second and third options on our offensive sets,” Musselman said. “But we’re still, I mean, we’ll go over there today and get into our defensive stuff and some of the things that we talked about on Day 1, we’re still talking about today — hand in the eyeball, no middle. I think that comes with having a really young team.

“I was just on the phone with Avery Johnson earlier today, and he kind of asked about our guys and was asking about the age of them, and, ‘Wow, I haven’t seen a team you’ve ever coached this young.’ With six freshmen, even TB (Trevon Brazile), I mean, you’re talking about a player who is just in his sophomore year, so we have a young team, a lot of new guys. We find ourselves repeating ourselves a lot in practice. We’re not moving ahead maybe at the rate that I want to because of having to repeat things, so we’ve got to move the chains every week little bit further. We can’t keep staying where we are, and with that, when something gets taught, we’ve got to take from the chalkboard to the practice to the drills to live action. They can’t just go from the chalkboard to drills, then when we go live we fall back into to other habits. We’ve got to grow. Right now, we need to see quicker growth now that we’re into this 20-hour segment than maybe what we’ve seen in a shortened four-hour segment that we’ve been in per week.”

As far as Brazile, who came over from Missouri, Musselman talked about striking a balance between shooting and attacking the rim.

“I think the game will obviously open up once we start playing games in November,” Musselman said. “Right now, especially behind closed doors in practice, I think it’s physical, it’s hard for guys to get feet set and open threes with the way that we defend. I think in Europe our competition was such that he was just so dominant around the rim that he really didn’t take many threes. But I think he’s a guy that will take more than maybe what we’ve seen — take more in a game than he actually does in practice — and certainly we feel like he’s got the ability to be a guy that’ll knock down shots at a decent rate.”

In Europe, 3-point shooting and turnovers were an issue. Brazile talked about how he thinks the Hogs can fix that?

“I think with both of them, I mean, the good thing is, you know, we had that foreign tour in August,” Brazile said. “There’s a lot of time between then and the season to get better, improve our 3-point shooting, getting stronger with the ball. I think that was a big thing. AB (Anthony Black) and Nick (Smith) are tall guards, so when guys get up into them, everybody has to get lower with the ball. So turnovers were a big thing. And then everybody’s been trying to get in the gym as much as we can, shoot as much as we can, trying to improve our 3-point percentage.”

Wichita State transfer Ricky Council also talked about how he feels the Hogs can fix those two areas.

“Coach would tell us stories all the time of players he coached in the past who would go 0-for-20, 0-for-15, over summer foreign tours, but during the season, they’d be a top 3-point percentage in the country,” Council said. “This was in August, we have plenty of time to improve on that before the season starts, and I feel like we will. From my experience, me playing at another college, I know sometimes in the summer, my shot wouldn’t be good, or sometimes it would be good, and then during the season, it’d be the opposite. So we’ve just gotta continue to work on before the time gets here.”

Smith is a true freshman who is projected by some services to go in the Top 5 of the 2023 NBA Draft. He can shoot the three, but obviously the Hogs will need more than just him hitting from distance this season.

“I think overall from three-point, it’s got to be a group attack on that,” Musselman said. “Hopefully teams don’t defend like we do, which will also help because of the way we defend threes. If teams zone us, I actually think we’ll be a better three-point shooting team. The way we play man-to-man, as we saw in Year 1, we led the nation in defending the three. So, those same concepts we have guarding our own three-pointers. We don’t play segments where we play a zone. So, naturally when somebody plays a zone, I think we get our feet set more and it’s proven over time that sometimes we improve our percentage against a team that doesn’t defend like we do. So, hopefully that’ll help as well.”

Musselman was asked if he feels the turnovers will take care of themselves?

“I hope so,” Musselman said. “I think the one thing is younger players, whether you’ve only played one year in college or whether you’ve played two years in college or are coming from high school, value the ball and understanding how many close games and how each possession matters. That’s something we’re learning now and we have a lot of growth in that area. So, we’re trying to play a little more situational basketball, meaning we create a mojo moment and put up on the clock 13 seconds down two. How are we going to react, and then we go live on that. Just as probably every team in the country has got to get better at late-situation basketball.”

Arkansas will continue to practice as the season grows nearer.

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