Every good coach with much past summons something back in time to apply to his current team. Certainly Eric Musselman summoned much to apply to his first Arkansas Razorbacks basketball team going 20-10 in a season prematurely finished by the coronavirus.
With a Razorbacks roster vastly depth curtailed, Musselman talked up his good University of Nevada teams mostly relying on just six or seven players. He said his Nevada solid six or seven often took advantage of teams over-subbing, capitalizing on going against their eighth, ninth, and tenth men employed trying to wear his short roster down.
Musselman’s Hogs not only were short in numbers but also in size. Now graduated 2019-2020 senior Adrio Bailey, 6-6, was his tallest regular starter. Sophomore reserve forwards Reggie Chaney and Ethan Henderson, stood the tallest period at 6-8.
Downplaying the obvious height disadvantage, Musselman accentuated the spread the floor mismatches that Arkansas created simultaneously playing shooting guards Mason Jones, Isaiah Joe and Desi Sills, and mid-range scoring point guard Jimmy Whitt and Bailey’s hard to cover quickness ad surprising 3-point shot. Now as juniors, Chaney and Henderson stand looking up to 7-3 sophomore Connor Vanover, redshirting at Arkansas in 2019-2020 transferring from the University of California. They are an inch shorter than 6-9 immediately eligible graduate transfer, Vance Jackson, via the University of New Mexico and incoming freshman forward, Jaylin Williams, of Fort Smith Northside. Another transfer forward redshirted last season, Abayomi Iyiola via Stetson University, stands 6-8. And while 6-5 SEC Co-Player of the Year Jones has signed with an agent and officially turned pro for the June NBA draft and 6-5 junior-to-be guard Joe ponders turning pro, Musselman has signed tall guard/forwards Jalen Tate, a grad transfer via Northern Kentucky University, and incoming freshman, Moses Moody, both 6-6, plus 6-4 freshman point guard Davonte Davis.
“I think obviously you look at the team makeup and we are going to be bigger,” Musselman said. “We’re going to be stronger.”
And thus more inside oriented? “Yes, we do have more size,” Musselman said. “But Connor Vanover’s strength is shooting the three. Vance Jackson’s strength is shooting the three. Jaylin Williams can make a three. Moses Moody is a very good 3-point shooter. JD Notae (now active after redshirting last season transferred from the University of Jacksonville) is a really good 3-point shooter. So, I don’t necessarily think that we’re going to change who we are. You want to go to your roster’s strengths.”
A considerable strength if SEC leading 3-point shooter Joe returns as a junior. Even if Joe joins Jones and eligibility completed guard Whitt exiting, the Hogs’ depth numbers look vastly increased with guards with heralded 6-0 freshman guard KK Robinson of Bryant added to the previously mentioned.
So much for talking up relying on just six or seven players. Musselman has a past to cite for that, too from his coaching the NBA minor leagues before head coaching the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings. “Obviously, I think that every coach should adapt to the roster that they have,” Musselman said. “I think every year your team takes on a new identity. When I coached in the G-League, we played 10 guys basically every night. I did it all the way back in the old CBA. I did it in the USBI. Because we felt like all 10 of those guys were all pretty equal in talent.”
He’s assembled a lot of talent on paper, but how interchangeable, he said, must play out on the court. “Coaches don’t give out minutes,” Musselman said. “Players earn minutes. Players earn their role based on how they perform in practice, how they perform in scrimmage settings. So what role is kind of formulated especially early on who meshes with each other, who blends the best and those types of things.”