By Nate Allen Sports
FAYETTEVILLE – Before he recruits new Razorbacks players and recruits Razorbacks fans and key boosters, new Arkansas Basketball Coach Eric Musselman must recruit at least most of the roster remaining from previous Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson.
Musselman, the University of Nevada coach hired for $2.5 million per year through 2023-2024 by Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek, met media and boosters at a Monday afternoon press conference at Walton Arena following Yurachek’s Sunday announcement of his hiring.
The first press conference, always important in launching a new coach, was superseded by his meeting the young team that went 18-16 without a senior for Anderson in 2018-19.
Other than sophomore center Daniel Gafford, who declared for the NBA draft before the Razorbacks played their two games in the postseason NIT, and freshman guard Keyshawn Embery-Simpson, announcing last week he is transferring to the University of Tulsa, the Razorbacks team met with Musselman at a cookout at Yurachek’s home Sunday night and returned en masse for Monday’s press conference.
On a video of Sunday night’s cookout, Musselman, whose last three Nevada teams qualified for the NCAA Tournament including reaching the Sweet Sixteen in 2017-2018, told the Razorbacks that without adding anyone they already have the talent to be a NCAA Tournament team in 2020 and have more talent than the 29-8 Nevada Wolfpack reaching the 2018 Sweet Sixteen.
Musselman, 110-34 with three Mountain West championships for his four Nevada head coaching seasons and with a long resume as a NBA assistant and totaling three NBA head coaching seasons with the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors and coaching in the professional CBA, and in college as an assistant at Arizona State and for one year at LSU becoming Nevada’s head coach, didn’t back off to media Monday from his Sunday night assessment.
“We knew it was going to get out, there was a camera there,” Musselman said. “So it isn’t anything I wouldn’t say today.”
What’s his basis?
“Well, first of all I believe that Coach Anderson has done a great job of accumulating talent,” Musselman said. “So many great, young pieces. A lot of the guys just finished up their freshman year and usually players make great leaps after their freshman year going into their sophomore season. Our goal is to make the tournament next season and that should be our goal every single season. That’s really how I feel. And I think that’s how our players feel. They didn’t flinch when I talked about it. And later on I got to eat with them and we talked more and more about how that can happen and what we have to do as a group between now and November.”
So that means he believes they’ll stay at Arkansas?
“Right now I think they are excited,” Musselman said. “I think they are looking forward to us starting out on the court as soon as sometime later this week. I don’t anticipate anybody leaving. I think we have guys that are happy.”
Yurachek opened to the public portion of Monday’s program paying tribute to Anderson, a 1985-2002 to former Arkansas Coach Nolan Richardson and Arkansas’ head coach the last eight years, and a 1985-2002 that he fired on March 26, “as a great man,” and to media in the press room explained the decision to fire Anderson and the process hiring Musselman.
“Probably the most difficult decision I’ve ever made professionally in letting Mike Anderson go,” Yurachek said. “As an athletic director, you let a coach go that has never had a losing season, that was so closely tied to this program and the history that he had here with Coach Richardson and the great man that he was and all he stood for. But ultimately what happens on the basketball court as an athletic director is how I have to evaluate our program moving forward. We had success, but we did not have the level of success I believe we could have here at the University of Arkansas.”
And the process of hiring Musselman?
“Jon Fagg (the associate athletic director most staff involved in the search other than Yurachek) and I talked to Coach’s agent and then reached out to him a week ago today by way of a phone call,” Yurachek said. “And then we traveled to Reno to visit with Coach and his family last Tuesday. I officially offered him this position on Friday and then we completed the contract over the course of the day on Saturday and of course then the announcement on Saturday.”
Apparently Musselman’s excitement about the Arkansas opportunity excited Yurachek as much or more than Musselman’s resume.
That excitement came with the first phone call and apparently didn’t waver as Yurachek talked to other coaches before Friday’s phone call with the offer.
“The moment I offered it to him on the phone on Friday and he … my ear was shaking he was yelling so loud he was so excited,” Yurachek said. “That’s what you want when you offer somebody a job. He was about ready to jump through the phone if he could have. I knew right then and there – obviously I’d made the right decision. His passion to be here at the University of Arkansas and his passion to lead our basketball program.”
A graduate of the University of San Diego, with only one game as an LSU assistant in a competitive situation at Arkansas, Musselman does have some Arkansas ties through his CBA and NBA experiences.
He said he talked and texted to Tony Brown of the Eddie Sutton era currently a Washington Wizards NBA assistant, Patrick Beverley, of Los Angeles Clippers who played for former Arkansas coach Stan Heath, and from the Richardson era, Corey Beck, whom Musselman knew from the CBA, and Phoenix Suns assistant coach Corliss Williamson.
“I want to connect with former players because there is so much history,” Musselman said.
Musselman was asked about former Razorbacks great Scotty Thurman, an assistant still on contract from Anderson’s staff as are assistant coaches Melvin Watkins, T.J. Cleveland and administrators Matt Zimmerman and Jeff Daniels.
“I really look forward to sitting down and meeting all the assistant coaches that were here last year,” Musselman said. “We’re still trying to figure everything out on what direction, but obviously Scotty and all the guys have a great reputation among college basketball. I look forward to sitting down and picking all the guy’s minds.”
While assembling a staff and eying recruits in the spring signing period, Musselman also will meet boosters and high school coaches as much as he can throughout the state starting with a Wednesday function in Little Rock including football coach Chad Morris, Yurachek said.
“Our Razorback foundation team, they’re already putting out a schedule,” Yurachek said. “That’s very important to get him around the state and he understands the importance of him and his staff being around the high schools across the state as well.”
By Nate Allen Sports