FAYETTEVILLE – Familiarity breeds contempt an old adage asserts. But the familiar is why Coach Eric Musselman signed graduate transfers Jalen Tate of Northern Kentucky University and Vance Jackson of the University of New Mexico to his Arkansas Razorbacks basketball team Wednesday morning and afternoon.
Jaylin Williams, the 6-9, 230 incoming freshman forward from Fort Smith Northside, Arkansas Gatorade High School Player of the Year and the Northside sophomore center when Arkansas sophomore guard Isaiah Joe was the Arkansas Gatorade Player of the Year for the state champion Grizzlies, signed with the Razorbacks Wednesday night. Wednesday marked the opening of the basketball signing period that extends through Aug. 3.
Two incoming freshmen from Arkansas, 6-foot point guard KK Robinson of Bryant and Oak Hill (Va.) Academy, and 6-5 shooting guard Moses Moody first of Little Rock Parkview, then North Little Rock High and finally Monteverde (Fla.) Academy, have verbally committed to sign with Arkansas, but apparently have opted to sign later during the signing period.
Regarding Williams, Musselman Wednesday night was quoted in a UA issued press release. “Jaylin is another versatile player, one that can play the 4 of the 5, that possesses a well-rounded skill set,” Musselman said. “He can play on the perimeter; he can space the floor, especially with his 3-ball shooting; and he is a good passer. Jaylin is well coached and, like his former high school teammate Isaiah Joe, knows how to take a charge. He is one of those rare players who can go get a defensive rebound then use his ball-handling ability to bring the ball up the floor.”
For his 2019-2020 senior season at Northside, Williams paced the Grizzlies averaging 18.7 points, 12.2 rebounds, 2.5 shot- blocks and 2.7 assists while maintaining a 3.81 grade point average. Former University of Nevada Coach Musselman knows 6-9 forward Jackson well because his Mavericks played Mountain West Conference games against Jackson’s Lobos for two of Jackson’s three active seasons at New Mexico. And he prepped his ultimately 20-12 Razorbacks last Nov. 30 to play against 6-6 guard/forward Tate but ultimately Tate could not play because of injuries when Arkansas edged a 23-9 Northern Kentucky Norse team, 66-60 at Walton Arena.
Musselman saw Jackson post some monster double-doubles against his Reno based Nevada Mavericks and saw Jackson star so regularly in the Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas that he was called “Vegas Vance,” the coach said. “Live eyeballs tell a lot more of the story certainly than watching on tape,” Musselman said in a Wednesday afternoon press conference with the grad transfers signed but Williams not yet in the fold. “Like I know exactly what Vance Jackson is.”
What is he? “Just to get a player 6-9, 230,” Musselman said after having no player taller than 6-8 last season. “It’s interesting because the versatility is the first thing that comes to mind with Vance. He can play the 4, he can play the 3, he can play the 5, he can play the 2. He has the ability offensively and defensively to really play four positions on the floor. You’re talking about a player who’s made 157 three-balls in his college career. He’s capable of a double-double on any given night.”
While he didn’t get directly to eyeball Tate since Tate ultimately didn’t play that Nov. 30 Arkansas vs. NKU game, Musselman first prepared against Tate on tape as the opposition’s star player which he says was a head start on evaluating him as a recruit. “When we play a team, we always prepare even when a guy is injured we always meet as a staff and go through strengths and weaknesses,” Musselman said. “We were extremely concerned whether he would play or not. We thought he was so dangerous in different areas whether it was as a defensive disruptor or whether it was his ability to dribble-drive. We knew he could make a three. So, yes, we did prepare as if he was going to play, so that helped from a familiarity standpoint. Once he entered the portal we knew he was going to be our top target at that position.”
Tate can play small forward or either guard, Musselman said and picks up the slack of departed graduate transfer guard Jimmy Whitt in defending the opposition’s best player whether a forward or guard, Musselman said.
Tate was the Horizon League’s Defensive Player of the Year for 2019-2020 and was named on the Horizon League’s All-Defensive team all three years he played at Northern Kentucky.
Musselman also commented on Devontae Davis, the 6-4 point guard from Jacksonville and first instate signee inking with the Razorbacks during the November early signing period. “Obviously Devo, Davonte Davis, is a guy that can play both guard spots and has great length,” Musselman said. “A guy that’s been committed and excited all the back from November. And somebody that’s got great pride in being a Razorback player.”
Musselman acknowledged preparing for 2020-2021 like junior All-SEC guard and SEC Co-Player of the Year Mason Jones is not returning after submitting his name for the June NBA draft and that he expects SEC 3-point shooting leader Joe may “test the waters” also.
Jones has not yet hired an agent, the final step in turning pro, but has indicated on Twitter that’s likely. Joe has not submitted his name yet, but still has plenty of time before the June 3 deadline to submit his name to the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee for evaluations and advice weighing the options of turning pro or returning to the UA for his junior year.
“Isaiah and his family still have discussions about testing the waters,” Musselman said. “So right now, I’m sure the focus is probably on that decision-making process. I would expect him to probably test the waters. That’s my gut feeling.”
Regarding Jones, Musselman said, “From all indications, it sounds like that (turning pro) is the challenge he’s looking towards. We kind of supply the feedback that we’ve gotten from NBA teams to Mason and his family and then it’s up to them. We’ve done all the research we can do up to this point. I’ve talked to 23 NBA teams, supplied them the information. We support all of our guys in any of their professional aspirations. We’re behind them 100 percent in whatever decision they make.”