FAYETTEVILLE – In successive years Arkansas Razorbacks Coach Mike Neighbors signed two of the most honored high Arkansas women’s players in the state’s basketball history and recently added another of the most honored that at first got away.
None of yet have shot a shot for Arkansas. But adding their presence with star guard Amber Ramirez returning for an extra senior year along with returning starting point guard Makayla Daniels, alternating center Erynn Barnum and top reserve guard Marquesha Davis have Neighbors plotting for another Arkansas NCAA Tournament team in 2021-2022 even with All-American/All-SEC guard Chelsea Dungee and All-SEC guard Destiny Slocum moving on to the WNBA draft.
Elauna Eaton, the 6-foot Helena native become nationally recognized high school star upon moving to Nettleton, Sasha Goforth, the 6-1 guard from Fayetteville, and Jersey Wolfenbarger, the 6-5 guard from Fort Smith Northside are the three of Arkansas high school fame whose exploits Neighbors counts on carving niches into Razorbacks lore.
Eaton became the 2020-2021 freshman class’ most heralded signee but never played last season after requiring major knee surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament during the preseason.
Goforth signed and started for Oregon State but through the transfer portal has “come home,” to be a Razorback, Neighbors said.
Wolfenbarger is the crown jewel of a so far nationally acclaimed 2021-2022 freshman class.
Neighbors was asked them about all during his Tuesday season wrap up press conference.
How soon will Eaton physically be able to help next season’s team?
“She’s way ahead of schedule when you look at a player who has a second ACL tear,” Neighbors said. “We’re still not rushing it because we’re not in any hurry to be in competition mode but the thing that’s been set in her mind is be ready when the time comes.”
Neighbors explained how set her mind is. She declined spectating the Razorbacks’ NCAA Tournament trip to San Antonio.
“She came to me and said, ‘Coach, as much as I want to go to the NCAA Tournament, I do not want to miss rehab.’ Neighbors said. “That’s mature. Most people don’t see the big picture like that. She stayed back to rehab.”
Will she be full go by the fall preseason?
“Really excited that she will be able to be conditioning and shooting throughout the summer and be ready to go full go when we start the fall semester,” Neighbors said.
Once she’s fit, where do her skills fit?
“She stretches the defense with her range,” Neighbors said. “She’s got the ability to shoot it out there from range. But if you close out she’s got the ability to go by you, too. And the thing she may give us best is rebounding. You’re talking about a kid who was a big-time rebounder throughout the summer circuit and her high school team. She had a lot of 15 and 20 rebound games. We will improve on rebounding because she’s in the lineup.”
Offensively, her teammates will enjoy her, Neighbors believes. “She’s instinctively a great passer,” Neighbors said. “And she’s got a little bit of that size that we struggled to play against that we’ll now have on our side. She’s a big guard. And she loves the game. She’s one of those kids that’s eat up with basketball.”
Goforth averaged 12.2 points and 3.5 rebounds for Oregon State.
Neighbors recruited her hard out of high school but not so hard to burn bridges when she opted for Oregon State.
She returns open armed to open arms“She’s the Arkansas kid that came home,” Neighbors said. “She wants to be here. That’s huge.” So is her talent and experience.
“We’ll be better defensively from Day One,” Neighbors said. “That’s a side of the ball that she’s been very dominating on ever since she picked up the game. She helps us with length. She helps us with rebounding She’s the type of scorer that fits with how we play. She’s an SEC caliber athlete with year of high level competition playing a ton of minutes in a lot of big, big games.”
Wolfenbarger brings a post’s size but such ball skills to remain a guard.
“You don’t see a kid with a growth spurt like that and stay at the same position,” Neighbors said. “None of those kids grew like that and stayed guards. I think we’ve got a unicorn. She will impact in a lot of ways.”
Ways that haven’t been seen on his past Arkansas teams, Neighbors said.
“We’re going to be changing some things because of her,” Neighbors said. “Her length and her size and ability to guard a lot of different spots means that we will change offense and defense.”
Neighbors still looks for shooting guard Ramirez of San Antonio and point guard Daniels of Frederick, Md. to lead, but he also sees leadership following homegrown with Davis of Springdale; Barnum of Little Rock Central; plus Eaton, Goforth and Wolfenbarger.