Years ago, Mobile, Ala. native DeMarcus Cousins decided to leave the state of Alabama to pursue the best path to the NBA he saw for himself.
On his way to Kentucky, then the most attractive basketball destination in the SEC, Cousins was joined by fellow Alabama native Eric Bledsoe.
Fast forward a dozen years and now another top-ranked Mobile, Alabama basketball player is ready to say “Goodbye” to the Crimson Tide and other home-state schools.
This time around, it’s Barry Dunning, Jr., who today announced his commitment to an Arkansas basketball program that could soon return to its mid-1990s status as the most feared in the SEC.
Dunning, a 6’6″ wing who won Gatorade Alabama Player of the Year in 2020-2021, is a four-star player who averaged 21.5 points, 11.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.8 blocks per game as a junior last season.
“He could be a two-year and done kid and go on to play pro,” his high school coach, Phillip Murphy, told AL.com.
“It just depends on how he develops. If he develops with the curve we’ve seen, I think that’s a very likely scenario. He has all the measurables, all the tools. As he continues to refine his skills, the sky is the limit.”
“His ceiling is so high, and he’s not anywhere close to meeting it yet.”
Getting Dunning is a coup for Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman, who has already lifted his Razorbacks among the nation’s premier teams after a strong finish last season ending in the Elite Eight.
While Kentucky is still a power to be reckoned with, they no longer appear to be the biggest threat to Arkansas in the SEC after a poor 2020-21 that exposed a lot of issues with John Calipari’s one-and-done system.
Instead, Musselman’s chief rival for SEC supremacy at this point looks like Alabama basketball coach Nate Oats.
Nate Oats, Alabama Basketball and Barry Dunning
Oats, for course, led the Alabama basketball program to the SEC regular season crown in 2020-21 as well as a Sweet 16 finish.
Even though the Crimson Tide lost a lot of top seniors this offseason, Oats was supposed to have a powerhouse team returning again in 2020-21. That looks doubtful, though, as two vital underclassmen — Josh Primo and Jaden Shackleford — have announced they are leaving the program.
While Alabama returns key bench players and a top 10 2021 recruiting class headlined by JD Davidson, it appears to be losing a bit of ground on Arkansas both in the near term and long term.
In the near term, most analysts project Arkansas as a stronger team than Alabama in 2021-22.
ESPN’s preseason poll, for instance, slots Arkansas at No. 13, three spots ahead of Alabama.
And CBS’ Garry Parrish puts the Hogs at No. 8, ahead of Kentucky (No. 13) and Alabama (No. 15). Here is Parrish’s breakdown:
“The Razorbacks are losing a lot – including projected first-round pick Moses Moody.“
“But JD Notae should return as a double-digit scorer, and Eric Musselman is adding at least four experienced double-digit scorers via the transfer market, mostly notably Chris Lykes (Miami) and Au’Diese Toney (Pitt).”
“Alabama is losing four of the top five scorers from a team that won the SEC regular-season title and SEC Tournament – most notably Jaden Shackelford and Herb Jones.”
“But the enrollment of a top-10 recruiting class highlighted by five-star point guard JD Davison, four-star big Charles Bediako and transfers Nimari Burnett (Texas Tech) and Noah Gurley (Furman) should give Nate Oats a chance to compete for back-to-back conference championships.”
In the long term, Dunning’s commitment to the Hogs hurts Alabama some since Nate Oats had “heavily” recruited Dunning since offering him a scholarship in 2019.
“I feel like Alabama is at home, any time you stay in-state it’s really home,” Dunning told 247 Sports.
“I love the community there and I love coach [Nate] Oats, coach Charlie [Henry] and coach [Antoine] Pettway and all of them. They really do work hard.”
Perhaps Dunning decided that Oats’ system, which emphasizes three-point shooting and layup attempts to the exclusion of mid-range jumpers, wasn’t the best fit for his game, considering he gets most of his point in transition and with a deadly mid-range jumper.
Whatever the reason, in the end, the Alabama basketball program didn’t even make Dunning’s Top 3 choices of Arkansas, South Alabama and Memphis.
Nate Oats is a great coach, but losing the top-ranked player in your state is never a great look (although, for Alabama fans, it beats Dunning choosing Auburn).
Just ask Mike Anderson after Malik Monk’s decision.
Barry Dunning and Arkansas Basketball
Barry Dunning is Arkansas’ second commitment of the class of 2022 after Morrilton native Joseph Pinion.
Pinion, who recruited Dunning and will room with him on campus next year, is one reason Dunning chose the Hogs.
So are the Arkansas basketball coaches and the system they have put into place to maximize recruits’ potential.
“It’s good to be a Razorback,” Dunning told Richard Davenport of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
“I feel like I’ll be able to impact the team and maximize my potential as a basketball player and as a man off the court,” Dunning said.
“Seeing Coach Musselman develop guys like Moses Moody, Jaylin Williams and also (Davonte Davis) … seeing those guys and JD Notae grow throughout the season and how they developed, they were able make it to the Elite Eight.”
Dunning added that the Arkansas basketball staff, including the GAs, took the time to watch livestreams of his games and give him advice.
“They told me some of things I needed to work on — Remember to keep that dribble tighter.”
“Even though I wasn’t committed, they were giving me advice on my game. Them being there through the good and bad of my recruitment really stood out to me.”
The Arkansas basketball program also stood out to Phillip Murphy, Dunning’s coach at McGill-Toolen Catholic High.
“They’ve been the most consistent recruiting him all along,” Murphy told AL.com “Their entire coaching staff was at every game we played in Georgia a few weeks ago. It all matches up for him.”
“When they first jumped on board, we talked to him and told him he should jump on it now because it felt like such a good match.”
“Once he got up there to visit and saw how basketball crazy it was, he was blown away.”
“It was a perfect fit.”
Will it remain that way?
In the below interview with Dunning, Alabama basketball analyst injects a little doubt.
“I’m very sure that most men on [Musselman’s] staff will continue to watch you. Who knows? I know you haven’t signed yet.”
“You”re gonna probably still have a lot of colleges out there still trying to steal you from the Razorbacks, I can tell you that right now….”
[cue awkward laughter]
And make sure to check out this longer interview with Dunning after the big news, too:
For more on Arkansas basketball recruiting, see this: