FAYETTEVILLE – For his stellar performances in Arkansas’ SEC successes last week at Florida and at Walton Arena against Kentucky, Razorbacks senior guard JD Notae was honored Monday as ESPN’s National Player of the Week, National Player of the Week by Andy Katz/NCAA March and by the SEC Office in Birmingham, Ala., as the SEC Player of the Week.
For the 82-74 victory in Gainesville, Fla. and 75-73 victory over No. 6 Kentucky advancing the Razorbacks from 18th to tied for 14th with Houston in the AP poll and 15th in the Coaches poll with 23-6 and 12-4 overall and SEC records going into Wednesday’s 8 p.m. ESPN2 televised SEC game vs. LSU at Walton Arena, Notae averaged 26 points, 5.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds. Against Florida, Notae scored a team high 22 points, including the game-clinching, setback 3-point dagger with 1:06 left in the game. Also in Gainesville, Notae grabbed six rebounds, dished three assists and blocked two shots.
Against Kentucky Notae fared even better. He registered team highs 30 points and eight assists, becoming the first Razorback with a 30 points/eight assists performance since Arkansas joined the SEC in 1991-92. His final assist to Jaylin Williams fooling Kentucky as it appeared he was driving to the hoop, put Arkansas irrevocably ahead, 71-70. Also with nine seconds left, Notae blocked a shot by Kentucky’s Ty Ty Washington when the Wildcats only trailed by four.
Notae’s honors impressed Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman.
“I’ve never coached a player in college who had a week where he was recognized by the conference, recognized nationally by ESPN and then recognized obviously with the March Madness and Andy Katz,” Musselman said. “That’s three really big, national recognition awards for Player of the Week. Really cool. Good for him on a Monday. Hopefully by Wednesday we’ll be back only worried about the LSU Tigers.”
Musselman marvels at Notae’s improvement redshirting at Arkansas as a 2018-2019 sophomore from the University of Jacksonville to first being the SEC’s Sixth Man of the Year for last season’s 25-7 NCAA Tournament Elite Eight Razorbacks to this during the season evolution from off guard to point guard while leading everyone in the SEC scoring other than Vanderbilt guard Scotty Pippen Jr.
“It’s been awesome watching JD’s game grow,” Musselman said. “Because his game really has grown a lot. I kind of laugh a little bit that the first year, the sit-out year, what we used to call the developmental year when we put him at the point guard position, he could get reckless with the ball at times. To watch his game grow, for all of us, has been really, really cool.”
Musselman especially marveled about Notae’s performance against Kentucky because it turned out he was sick during the game.
Arkansas center Jaylin Williams, the co-star of the Kentucky game scoring 12 of his 16 points in the second half and double-doubling with 12 rebounds, was throwing up sick at halftime, Musselman knew. But he didn’t know then that Notae was sick to his stomach, too.
“They kept that from me until after the game,” Musselman said.” It was either JD or one of his teammates attributing it to eating too many pancakes prior to an early start. I can neither confirm nor deny that, but I didn’t find out after the game.”
Speaking to media on Monday’s Zoom prior to Musselman’s revelation that Notae had been ill last Saturday, Notae didn’t mention having felt under the weather when asked about his honor.
“Just good to see hard work get a little credit,” Notae said. “But at the end of the day we’ve got to keep going, keep getting better, keep coming back each and every day wanting to get better.”
Although listed as a senior, Notae among those granted an extra year of NCAA eligibility option because of last season’s covid pandemic disruptions.
Notae said at this season’s stage he hasn’t pondered whether to return to the UA for 2022-2023 or turn pro which would make Wednesday night’s game his career Walton Arena finale.
“I’ve just been trying to stay focused on this season and just what that holds,” Notae said. “And just keep on keeping that the main focus and just go day by day.”
Following Wednesday night’s game at Walton, the Razorbacks close their SEC regular season vs. 13th-ranked Tennessee at 11 a.m. Saturday in Knoxville, Tenn. on ESPN.
From there it’s on to the March 11 quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament followed by the NCAA Tournament which appears an Arkansas at large lock.