Whether One of Calipari’s Top 2026 Recruiting Targets Underwhelming in EYBL Is a Problem

Sam Funches, JJ Andrews, Arkansas basketball, Arkansas recruiting, EYBL
photo credit: Instagram/Shotbyw1nk / Twitter/JJ Andrews

The addition of John Calipari as the Arkansas basketball coach has forced Razorback fans to familiarize themselves with the head-spinning world of blue-chip high school athletics.

At showcases and circuits all around the country, college hoops’ recruiting king has navigated it all over the years. Calipari knows a thing or two, because he’s seen a thing or two. In addition to his pursuit of transfers to stock the cupboard in the short-term, he has also started to make inroads and establish a footing with high school recruits at his new spot.

One of his latest pursuits is big man Sam Funches, the No. 1 center and No. 8 overall prospect in the Class of 2026, according to 247Sports. The Madison, Miss., native averaged 18 points, 11 rebounds and 6 blocks for Germantown High School as a sophomore this past season. Standing at 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-4 wingspan, Funches “runs like a deer” and has freak athleticism for his size:

Funches was previously recruited by the Hogs while Eric Musselman was still in town, but he told WholeHogSports that “nothing is going to be different between me and Arkansas” after the coaching change. Funches’ lead recruiter on the previous staff was Ronnie Brewer, who has seemingly been retained by Calipari. It appears that Chin Coleman has become his lead recruiter on the new Arkansas basketball staff, with Coleman telling him that the “Hogs really wanted me & that they are going to recruit me hard. That my style of play fits what they run.”

While Arkansas is squarely in the mix for the 17-year-old, there’s stiff competition from other schools like Gonzaga, Alabama and Ole Miss. In fact, Funches has been catching eyes from an early age, as he earned an offer from Georgetown before he even entered eighth grade.

Calipari was recently in attendance at the Nike EYBL Circuit to catch a number of blue chip prospects in action. That includes Funches, who plays for the LivOn Basketball squad out of Louisiana and has played for Team Thad since early April.

All this acclaim and attention, and yet Funches was averaging 8 points and 6 rebounds in the EYBL heading into this weekend.


The Cruel World of AAU Basketball

The No. 1 center in the nation averaging single digits in both of those categories is definitely an eyebrow raiser. Everybody is used to the top-tier prospects putting up gaudy numbers in high school, so Sam Funches’ numbers definitely deserve a closer inspection to add some context.

For starters, he did put up gaudy numbers for his school. Averaging a double-double with six blocks has folks droolings over his rim-running potential.

The Victor Wembanyama comparison there might be a little premature, but the appeal of Funches as a prospect jumps out immediately.

As far as his Elite Youth Basketball League stats, that circuit tends to be a brutal one for even the most blue-chip of recruits. The EYBL is regarded as the highest echelon of AAU hoops. Success on that gauntlet can prove challenging for a number of reasons.

First off, these teams are comprised entirely of the nation’s top prospects – which presents some pretty obvious chemistry issues. All of these kids are leaving behind their established high school teammates to play for these elite club squads, and the conglomeration of a ton of five-star talents who aren’t familiar with each other is rarely going to produce unselfish basketball.

With college coaches from blue-blood programs lining the courtside seats of these showcases, the games tend to turn into a bunch of guys trying to display their individual talent rather than playing as a cohesive team. The prevalence of iso ball leaves big guys like Funches out of the fun.

In fact, Funches is far from the only elite big man to not put up elite numbers on the EYBL Circuit.

Sam Funches vs Past Top-Ranked Bigs

Aaron Bradshaw, the nation’s top center and the No. 2 overall player in the Class of 2022, played for the NJ Scholars in the EYBL and averaged 12.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game – relatively modest numbers for a prospect of his caliber. After featuring in a limited role for Kentucky as a freshman, Bradshaw entered the transfer portal and took his talents to Ohio State.

Dereck Lively II, the No. 1 center and ESPN’s top overall prospect in the Class of 2021, is another example of this. While the 7-foot-1 big man put up an eye-popping 3.7 blocks per game, he averaged just 8.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game on the EYBL Circuit – very comparable numbers to Funches.

Lively eventually became a one-and-done lottery pick, and has since carved out a role as a dangerous rim-runner on the Dallas Mavericks. Turn on ABC in the next couple nights, and you’ll catch him in action in the Western Conference Finals.

Judging by Bradshaw’s performance, Sam Funches’ pedestrian EYBL numbers are far from unheard of for a top big man – and looking at how Lively has turned out, there’s absolutely nothing to worry about.

Other Big Fish Calipari is Chasing for Arkansas Basketball

Sam Funches is far from the only blue-chip prospect that Calipari has his eyes on as he seeks to jumpstart his recruiting efforts at his new job. Coach Cal and his assistant, Chin Coleman, were in attendance to watch the highly-coveted Boozer twins in action at the EYBL. He also rubbed elbows with his successor at Kentucky, Mark Pope.

Just two pals having a chat. No outside controversy to see here!

The older brother, Cameron Boozer, is the No. 2 overall player in the Class of 2025, per 247Sports. Calipari had been in pursuit of him at Kentucky, and judging by his recent comments, it sounds like that relationship might be able to shift over to Arkansas’ pursuit of the 6-foot-9 forward.

“I wasn’t expecting [Calipari] to leave Kentucky,” Boozer told On3. “I think it’s a completely different program. I think a big part of all their success recently and the players they’ve gotten is because of Coach Cal. If they were to reach out, it would be a whole different recruiting process.”

Arkansas native JJ Andrews is another one of Calipari’s targets that he saw in-person at the EYBL. The 6-foot-6 wing is a five-star prospect ranked 13th in the Class of 2026 by ESPN. A product of Little Rock Christian, Calipari’s hot pursuit of in-state talent represents a turn away from a dangerous trend that had developed under Musselman.

Another Natural State product is 6-foot-8 wing Terrion Burgess, a four-star recruit out of Marion. Calipari was courtside watching Burgess in action at the Adidas 3SSB last week. After he was hired, Burgess expressed intrigue at the prospect of playing under Calipari.

“Having [Calipari] here in our state is definitely a big deal,” Burgess told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “His resume is extremely impressive and he has done a lot for college basketball and the culture. I’m sure he’s going to help continue the winning tradition that the Razorbacks have always had.”

At the same showcase, Calipari was also keeping tabs on five-star guard Darryn Peterson, ESPN’s No. 3 overall player in the 2025 class. Peterson put on a show for the Head Hog, scoring 32 points in a standout victory – a game in which Burgess was on the opposing team. Notably, Peterson was the first 2025 prospect that Calipari extended an offer to.

Power forward Koa Peat is another intriguing prospect for Arkansas, and the emphasis there is on power. Hogville’s Kevin McPherson was a first hand witness to what he described as “Corliss Williamson-like strength” from the 6-foot-8 Peat. The consensus top-five recruit says he has a visit planned to Fayetteville in the near future. A product of Gilbert, Ariz., Peat has ties to the state of Arkansas through his sister, who goes to UAPB.

Standout wing Will Riley says he’s also planning on visiting Arkansas. The 6-foot-8 small forward is a five-star prospect ranked in the top 10 nationally in the Class of 2025, per On3. 247Sports mentioned Riley as a player that is “really gaining momentum” after “a couple of really explosive outings” on the EYBL Circuit. That included a 42-point outburst for Calipari to witness. The rising senior listed Arkansas as one of the finalists to land his services.

Another 2025 five-star on Coach Cal’s radar is point guard Darius Acuff Jr., who took an official visit to Arkansas a couple of weeks ago. Acuff has shown out on the EYBL Circuit, with 247Sports’ Adam Finkelstein writing that “there might not be any player in [the EYBL] scoring the ball more consistently.” He’s averaging an eye-popping 24 points per game, and continues to impress scouts and coaches alike.


See the latest on Hogs recruiting the AAU basketball circuit here:

And…. a 13-year-old, 6-foot-9 Funches taking kids’ lunch money back in 8th grade. It’s easy to see why Georgetown took an early interest in him.

Even more in-depth look at the latest with Arkansas basketball:


More coverage of Arkansas basketball recruiting from Best of Arkansas Sports:

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