It sounds almost like the script of an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary: What if I told you two of the hottest players in college basketball were from the same Arkansas town of less than 30,000?
Most Arkansas basketball fans are aware of Davonte Davis, who is playing the best basketball of his career, but they may not know that Jacksonville also produced Wake Forest’s Tyree Appleby, who is tearing up the ACC.
If that latter name sounds familiar, beyond the fact that he was an All-State performer at Jacksonville High in the Class of 2017, it’s because he spent the last three years at Florida and faced his home state Razorbacks a couple of times.
That was the second stop on what has been a dramatic rise for Appleby, whose older brother, Raheem, was a prolific scorer and all-conference performer at Louisiana Tech.
Despite those solid bloodlines and a fantastic high school career, he was not heavily recruited and signed with Cleveland State. It didn’t take long for Appleby to prove he was overlooked coming out of Jacksonville, as he averaged 11.8 points as a freshman and then 17.2 points as a sophomore.
Needless to say, there was a lot more interest in him when he entered the transfer portal than his first go around with the recruiting process. Appleby ultimately landed at Florida, where’d he be coached by the same man who coached his brother at Louisiana Tech, Mike White.
Following an NCAA-mandated redshirt year, Appleby became a steady contributor for the Gators and averaged 11.1 points, 3.5 assists, 2.5 rebounds and 1.4 steals over the past two seasons. He was much better than that against Arkansas, scoring 16 and 19 points in the two matchups, but the Razorbacks won both games.
With White moving on to Georgia, Appleby opted to enter the transfer portal again for his bonus year of eligibility. Now in his sixth season of college basketball, he’s playing at an All-ACC level at Wake Forest.
In the Demon Deacons’ last game, Appleby turned in the game of his life. Despite shooting just 6 of 20 from the floor and missing all six of his 3-pointers, he still managed 35 points in a 92-85 win over North Carolina. He did so by drawing 16 fouls, leading to him going 23 of 28 from the charity stripe.
As if that wasn’t enough, he also had 11 assists on his teammates’ 21 buckets and tied for the team lead with 7 rebounds despite standing just 6-foot-1.
Through 25 games, Appleby is averaging 18.7 points, 6.2 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals. He now leads the ACC in both scoring and assists, plus minutes (36.1 per game).
Only five other ACC players have averaged at least 18 points and 6 assists since 1992-93 and four of them became first-round picks, with the fifth being a second-rounder. Most recently, eventual ninth overall pick Dennis Smith did it at North Carolina State in 2016-17.
Meanwhile, Davis — who came through Jacksonville High three years later — has taken his game to another level. He had some big moments as a freshman and sophomore, but even Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman has said he’s playing better than ever before.
The 6-foot-4 guard has always played tenacious defense and has continually shut down the other team’s best player. Now he’s become an offensive threat, scoring at least 15 points in each of the Razorbacks’ last nine games.
Over that span, he’s averaging 16.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.2 steals. Perhaps most incredibly, Davis has become a 3-point sniper, knocking down 21 of 47 (44.7%) attempts from deep after connecting on only 17.9% over his first 14 games.
Together, Appleby and Davis give the central Arkansas city a pretty incredible duo of players comparable to its much larger neighbor to the south, Little Rock, which has produced future NBA players like Joe Johnson, Bobby Portis and Moses Moody.
That’s not even to mention perhaps its best player: Nick Smith Jr. Even though he played high school ball at Sylvan Hills in Sherwood and then North Little Rock, the projected lottery pick lists Jacksonville as his hometown on the official UA roster.
Based on recent comments by Musselman, Smith is nearing a return to the court. If and when he returns, he could easily insert himself into the conversation alongside Appleby and Davis.
Best of Arkansas Sports recently did an update on former Razorbacks who have since transferred elsewhere, which includes Arkansans like Connor Vanover and Desi Sills, but here’s a look at a handful of others who went elsewhere straight out of high school…
Kevin Cross — Tulane
High School: Little Rock Mills
Stats: 22 G/22 GS, 15.3 points (51.2% FG, 29.3% 3PT, 84.3% FT), 6.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists
Coming out of Little Rock Mills in the Class of 2019, Kevin Cross signed with Nebraska and actually had success as a true freshman. The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 7.1 points and 3.9 rebounds in 18.3 minutes in his lone season with the Cornhuskers. He’s now in his third season at Tulane and enjoying his best year yet. Most recently, Cross set career highs with 27 points and 15 rebounds (plus 6 assists) in an overtime win over Cincinnati on Tuesday.
Shaun Doss Jr. — UAPB
High School: Marion
Stats: 24 G/24 GS, 17.8 points (41.7% FG, 33.3% 3PT, 80.8% FT), 4.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.4 steals
A prolific scorer, Shaun Doss Jr. is in his sixth season of college basketball. He signed with Iowa Western C.C. out of Marion High School in the Class of 2017, but spent only one year in JUCO before returning home to play at UAPB. After three seasons with the Golden Lions, Doss hit the transfer portal and landed at SIU-Edwardsville — where he spent just one year before returning to UAPB. He’s currently the SWAC’s leading scorer at 17.8 points per game and has scored 1,655 career points at the DI level, including a career-high 32 in UAPB’s double overtime loss at Jackson State on Monday.
Allen Flanigan — Auburn
High School: Little Rock Parkview
Stats: 24 G/9 GS, 9.5 points (44.9% FG, 32.9% 3PT, 77.2% FT), 5.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists
Over the past two seasons, Allen Flanigan has been a mainstay in Auburn’s starting lineup. That changed this year and he got off to a slow start for the Tigers, averaging just 7.2 points and shooting 31.6% from deep in their first 13 games. He’s played much better of late, though, and regained his starting spot. In Auburn’s last nine games, he’s averaged 12.2 points and shot 34.1% from beyond the arc. That includes a season-high 22 points against Georgia on Feb. 1, plus 18 points against Arkansas early in the stretch.
Camren Hunter — Central Arkansas
High School: Bryant
Stats: 24 G/24 GS, 17.0 points (41.1% FG, 29.0% 3PT, 77.2% FT), 5.2 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.5 steals
One of five Arkansas natives on UCA’s roster, Camren Hunter is the reigning ASUN Conference Freshman of the Year. He also earned first-team All-ASUN honors after averaging 14.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.5 steals as a true freshman. His numbers are even better as a sophomore, with his 17.0 points ranking second in the conference.
Issac McBride — Oral Roberts
High School: Baptist Prep
Stats: 25 G/25 GS, 12.3 points (49.1% FG, 44.6% 3PT, 76.3% FT), 2.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists
Originally signing with Kansas, Issac McBride never suited up with the Jayhawks before transferring to Vanderbilt. He spent just one season in the SEC before hitting the transfer portal again and landing at Oral Roberts. Now playing alongside All-American Max Abmas and former Arkansas basketball player Connor Vanover, McBride has been a key player on one of the best mid-major teams in the country, as the Golden Eagles are 21-4 overall and 12-0 in the Summit League. He is their third-leading scorer and one of the top 3-point shooters in the country.
Chris Moore — Auburn
High School: West Memphis
Stats: 21 G/16 GS, 4.8 points (51.5% FG, 42.9% 3PT, 75.9% FT), 2.3 rebounds
The only member of the famed 2020 in-state class who didn’t choose to stay home, Chris Moore played sparingly over his first two seasons at Auburn. Now in his third season with the Tigers, he started the first 16 games before suffering a shoulder injury that sidelined him for a couple of weeks. Although he’s since returned to action, Moore has come off the bench in Auburn’s last five games and averaged just 10.7 minutes.
Kel’el Ware — Oregon
High School: North Little Rock
Stats: 23 G/4 GS, 7.1 points (43.8% FG, 28.6% 3PT, 71.7% FT), 4.2 rebounds, 1.4 blocks
Arkansas landed a trio of five-star recruits in the 2022 class, including North Little Rock’s Nick Smith Jr., but his high school teammate spurned the Razorbacks, as Kel’el Ware chose Oregon instead. The season may not be going as the 7-footer had hoped, but most projections still have him being a potential lottery pick in this year’s NBA Draft. Scouts got a glimpse of his potential in the Phil Knight Invitational back in November, when he averaged 16.0 points and 8.3 rebounds in three games against UConn, Michigan State and Villanova.
More coverage of Arkansas basketball from BoAS…