Wednesday Hoops

Nate Allen

FAYETTEVILLE – Even the dream ending in Monday’s Elite Eight loss to the Baylor Bears in Indianapolis couldn’t stop Jalen Tate from dreaming on about the Razorbacks though he won’t be an active part.

Like fellow graduate transfers and lone 2020-2021 Arkansas basketball seniors Justin Smith and Vance Jackson, Tate moves on at the semester’s end to try his hand at some level of professional basketball.

He spent four of his five college years at Northern Kentucky University from which he received his degree. Then this indelibly etched University of Arkansas season as the point guard of second-year Coach Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks, the 25-7 surprising SEC runners-up and even more surprisingly Elite Eight team that rallied from down 18 to down four before finally falling, 81-72 to top-seeded Baylor.

In Monday’s postgame Tate was asked how this team would be Arkansas remembered.

“This team will never be forgotten, man,” Tate said. “This group has done a lot for this program and the culture of this program. I think Year Two with this coaching staff, man, it puts you on a jump start in the right direction. It sets the standard for every single year. You’ll want to get back to this point and back to these experiences.”

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Experiences even more appreciated throughout covid 2020-2021.

“To be able to do what we did, especially in a year like covid where you’re faced with a lot of challenges and just a different way of life, you can’t say enough about this team,” Tate said. “Obviously we want the outcome of the night to go different. But I think this team when we give it some time to heal a little bit, you’ll remember everything we did.”

A remarkable achievement for a season-ending starting five of graduate transfers Tate and Smith and three home grown freshmen, guards Moses Moody and Davonte “Devo” Davis of Little Rock and Jacksonville and 6-10 center Jaylin Williams of Fort Smith Northside.

“Our freshmen are great,” Tate said. “They made this experience everything it was for me. They came to me for advice on the court and off the court. They listened tremendously, man. And it’s just amazing to see them flourish the way they did.”

Davis and Williams opened on the end of the bench.

“Devo Davis and Jaylin Williams who had no playing time in the beginning of the year and may have gotten down on themselves,” Tate said. “But me and Justin Smith were telling them ‘Know your time will come. It’s a long season.’ You look down the stretch, without those guys we’re nowhere near where we’re now.”

Moody blossomed from the get-go. The every game starter leading the Razorbacks in scoring all the while doing it unselfishly involving teammates offensively and playing superb defense.

Moody’s offensively struggling last two games in the NCAA Tournament, a combined 6 of 30 shots in the 72-70 victory over Oral Roberts University and the loss to Baylor, won’t undo his All-American accomplishments.

The Razorbacks never would have gotten the Big Dance without him.

“Moses Moody, once-in-a-lifetime player to play with,” Tate said. “Just really a tremendous talent. I’m excited to see what all three of them can do after this.”

Moody is predicted next to do what he does in the NBA.

Davis, his place in Arkansas “big shot” history etched with the shot with 3.1 seconds left snapping the 70-70 tie to beat Oral Roberts, also will have a basketball life well beyond Arkansas in Tate’s view.

“To the NBA,” Tate predicted for Devo beyond next season leading Arkansas. “There’s not a thing he can’t do on the court. I’d love to see him really take on that leadership role going forward because he can do it. I think he’ll go as far as this game will take him.”

The Razorbacks don’t beat Texas Tech, 68-66 in the tournament’s second round without Williams’ game-leading 10 rebounds and team-leading four assists.

“He (Williams) came into his own on both sides of the ball really,” Tate said. “Just an excellent screen setter. He became a tenacious rebounder, one of the best in the country, honestly, that I had seen. He became an anchor, on both sides of the ball.”

What about Musselman, the coach who so intensely and uniquely mixed this conglomerate together and made it work?

“Coach meant everything,” Tate said. “I took a blind leap of faith, honestly, not taking any visits and really just — he stood by me. Didn’t make any empty promises.”

Certainly Musselman didn’t sugarcoat.

“He pushed me even when I didn’t want to be pushed,” Tate said. “You just see how emotional he is about the game every single day. Sometimes in the season it gets annoying or you might get a little backlash, but looking back I never have had anybody like him. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime coach, really. And I think that’s why we were able to do what we did this year.”

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