Year 1 Expectations for Layden Blocker and Baye Fall (Given Fall’s Late Arrival to Campus)

Baye Fall, Layden Blocker, Arkansas basketball
photo credit: Instagram/3a4e_4all / Instagram/laygogetit

A year after signing a heralded six-man class, Eric Musselman is set to have just two freshmen on the 2023-24 Arkansas basketball roster.

The “just” in that sentence refers strictly to quantity, however. The quality of players isn’t an issue: Layden Blocker and Baye Fall are each considered high four-star prospects and among the top 30 players in the 2023 recruiting class.

They will join forces with five returning Razorbacks and six transfer portal additions in an effort to help Arkansas basketball reach at least the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament for a fourth straight year.

Much has been written about those 11 players, though, so Best of Arkansas Sports decided to take some time to go over the two incoming freshmen…

Baye Fall vs Layden Blocker in Year 1 at Arkansas

Arkansas basketball fans might have a sour taste in their mouths when it comes to five-star freshmen after a generally disappointing season in 2022-23 – including season-long injuries to Nick Smith Jr, an affinity for untimely turnovers from Anthony Black and all-around offensive struggles from Jordan Walsh.

However, there were many other factors that played into the team’s underwhelming final record – numerous injuries, all-around lack of experience and youth, consistently changing lineups because of those things, and facing one of the toughest schedules in the entire country. The point being: don’t turn your nose up at these highly-touted incoming freshmen just yet.

Baye Fall has a tremendous amount of untapped potential with his length, quickness, defensive prowess and solid shooting form. However, his skillset is still raw and in need of development and consistency before he’s able to take over any collegiate games.

Despite having a soft touch and elite length in the paint, his need to improve his strength and footwork will likely limit him to being a pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop player early in his career rather than providing a more traditional post presence.

His size and motor alone could allow him to have an impact on certain games as a freshman, but it’s unlikely that he becomes a Day 1 starter – especially with several options now available in Arkansas’ front court.

Rather, it’s the incoming point guard from Little Rock – Layden Blocker – who stands to potentially make a bigger impact for the Razorbacks in his freshman season.

Blocker is a consensus four-star recruit who even briefly earned five-star status and is now ranked as high as No. 24 nationally by Rivals. That made him one of the top players in the country to not get an invite to the McDonald’s All-American Game.

Standing at 6-foot-2, he has an attack-first, ask-questions-later mentality on offense. He has great instincts and is a willing passer, but he’s most comfortable driving with a full head of steam toward the rim. Blocker possesses elite quickness and athleticism that allows him to finish around, and occasionally over, defenders as seen here:

One of the most intriguing parts of Blocker’s game as an incoming freshman is his tenacity and anticipation on the defensive side of the ball. Defense and perimeter shooting are often the two things true freshmen struggle with the most when transitioning to the collegiate level, but Blocker’s high IQ, quick reactions and hard-nosed mentality could allow him to be a defensive pest from Day 1.

The thing Blocker has arguably improved the most over his high school career is his outside shot. A lot of times, naturally gifted athletes rely on their physical traits (height, strength, speed, vertical, quickness, etc.) to beat defenders and don’t always perfect their long-range shooting. While Blocker does rely on his physical abilities for much of his production, he’s become a much more reliable shooter throughout his high school career.

The pace of play at the next level is also a common area of concern for incoming freshmen, and Blocker will be no different. His style of play is fast and furious, the kind of attack mindset found in the best running backs on the most highly favored pro football teams, as you can see when you check out the latest NFL picks. So, understanding when to push the ball in transition versus when to pull back and set up an offense may prove to be one of Blocker’s biggest adjustments – especially since he’s likely to see time at the point guard position.

This same struggle was present too often this past season with true freshman Anthony Black. One of the best parts of Black’s game is his ability to push the pace and find his teammates in transition thanks to his elite combination of height and court vision. While he excelled at this at times, he often made bad reads while attempting to advance the ball in transition, resulting in turnovers.

However, in high school, Blocker demonstrated a great understanding of when to get his teammates involved and keeping a level head, especially in his team’s major upset victory over No. 1 seed Montverde Academy in the GEICO National Championship quarterfinals this spring. He didn’t light up the stat sheet in the win, but he did hit a big 3-pointer to start a fourth-quarter comeback, later followed by a huge steal and assist to an open teammate for a go-ahead 3-pointer with under a minute remaining.

Those type of winning plays are exactly what a coach is looking for from an incoming recruit – whether it be from the high school ranks or the transfer portal. Naturally, Blocker will have his fair share of “freshman” moments and mistakes, but his ability to impact the game at a high level on both sides of the ball should go a long way in his potential role next season with Arkansas basketball.

How they Fit with Arkansas Basketball

Baye Fall

Fall is listed as a center coming out of high school in Denver, as most 6-foot-10 players should be, but his unique skill set combined with an underdeveloped frame might push him closer to being a power forward – at least during his first season with the Hogs.

One Hogville user wrote “He isn’t strong or aggressive enough,” when watching Fall in the Nike Hoop Summit this spring. “He doesn’t fit the role he is trying to play and [is] not attacking rebounds. He needs more weight and strength,” and they’re not entirely wrong.

Fall has shown enough mobility and shooting potential to warrant legitimate discussion around his ability to succeed at the 4 instead of as a more traditional center. If he were to play a forward spot, he’d need to tighten up his on-ball skills, such as his spot up shooting, pump-fakes, decision making when passing the ball, etc. – along with adding some weight to be SEC ready at any position.

This is a tall task to ask of a true freshman accustomed to playing the center position, but it may be his most viable option for playing time this year given his current strength. It’s not a good sign that Fall got pushed off his spots by other high school centers in all-star showcases. Don’t expect he’ll have gained enough muscle mass to contend with SEC big men as a true center by the time the season rolls around.

Trevon Brazile is actually a good comparison for Fall in this regard. Brazile stands at roughly 6-foot-10, but did most of his damage from the power forward spot when healthy this season. He didn’t possess the sheer muscle mass to contend with bigger SEC centers on a regular basis, and his ability to shoot from beyond the arc and use his length on the perimeter defensively allowed Musselman to move Brazile to the 4 and create longer, more versatile lineups.

Don’t be surprised if Musselman does something similar with Fall this season, especially now that he has options in the front court. Fall will be joined by last year’s starting center Makhi Mitchell, along with Brazile, Jalen Graham and Memphis transfer Chandler Lawson. While Brazile and Graham could face similar defensive problems against opposing centers due to their lack of overall size, they still have more college experience and time spent adding muscle to their frame than Fall.

It’s likely that Fall could see himself in a full-time backup role behind a now-healthy Brazile – though he’ll now have to contend with Lawson, who is listed at 6-foot-7 with an absurd 7-foot-7 wingspan. While a potential backup role won’t help Fall’s draft stock this season, it could be the best-case scenario for the true freshman who clearly needs to hone in on building his frame and developing his overall skill set while still getting an opportunity to test himself against better competition.

Fall’s arrival – or lack thereof – to campus had been a hot topic of discussion among Razorback fans on social media. He wasn’t on campus for the first round of practices and he’s yet to be seen on any official team posts. However, Fall arrived in northwest Arkansas on June 29. The late start should allow him to still participate in the next round of team practice but could factor into a limited role this season.

Layden Blocker

Layden Blocker could be facing a similar situation given the announcement of several incoming transfer guards, including Keyon Menifield Jr. from Washington, Tramon Mark from Houston, Khalif Battle from Temple, El Ellis from Louisville and even Jeremiah Davenport from Cincinnati.

Davenport is a combo guard/forward who is more likely to soak up minutes at the 3 and 4, but the others are experienced ball handlers – and most will be fighting for starting backcourt positions alongside returning combo guard Davonte Davis.

At the moment, Mark seems to be the most likely candidate to start alongside Davis in the backcourt. He’s listed at roughly 6-foot-6 and has a plus-wingspan that allows him to defend multiple positions, much like Davis. Toss in his high left-handed shooting release and streaky scoring outputs, and fans might think they’re seeing double when he shares the court with Davis.

The other backcourt starting spot, however, remains up for debate. Mitchell and Brazile seem likely to start in the front court, but Musselman could certainly opt for a smaller, faster lineup consisting of another big wing/forward like Battle or Lawson alongside Brazile. Either way, that leaves the lead guard position open. Davis is more of a shooting guard, but he could shift into more of a point guard role should Musselman decide to start him alongside Mark and Battle. Ellis, Menifield and Blocker are all capable candidates and will be fighting for the starting position.

While it seems likely that Blocker could end up in a bench role behind a more experienced guard, there’s a possibility that Blocker’s game impresses Musselman enough to put him in contention for the starting role alongside Davis. Even if he is designated to a bench role, his more polished defensive game and overall basketball IQ will likely allow him an easier path to playing time than Fall early in the season, even with the team’s apparent glut of veteran guards.


Notes on Layden Blocker and Baye Fall

  • As a junior and despite playing with two SI All-Americans, Blocker averaged nine points, 1.3 steals, 3.7 rebounds and posted a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio for Sunrise Christian Academy (Belair, Kan.), which held down the top spot in the SB Live/SI Power 25 for most of the season.
  • Played for Bradley Beal Elite in the Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL) this summer, which features some of the top high school basketball talent in the nation. He averaged 15.8 points per game, 5.8 rebounds, and 4.1 assists in 27 minutes per game.
  • Played at Little Rock Christian as a sophomore (2021) Blocker averaged 20 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals per game
  • Baye Fall is the 6th-highest recruit Arkansas has signed by ESPN and eighth-highest by 247Sports Composite
  • Played for the Colorado Hawks in the spring and summer under the direction of Hawks director Greg Willis, a Fort Smith native.
  • As a junior at Denver Prep Academy, averaged 14.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game.

-via Arkansas Athletics

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