If you’ve seen #ThatWork on Twitter and follow the Arkansas basketball program, you’ll know who promotes that hashtag the most.
Rising sophomore guard Derrian Ford, formerly of Magnolia, spent most of the 2022-23 season parked on the bench as the Razorbacks meandered their way through the SEC before ultimately making the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive year.
On Thursday, it turned out all that hard work will be for another team next season. Ford declared he would enter the transfer portal, Tweeting: “Arkansas will always be my home and hold a special place in my heart. After much prayer and consultation with God, my family, and the coaching staff, I have made the decision to enter the transfer portal. This is not the end; only the beginning for me. To everything there is a season; a time for every purpose under Heaven… God bless all.”
In an interview late last week, Darnell Ford, his father, told Best of Arkansas Sports one of the biggest things Derrian learned in his first year on campus was how to carry himself as a Division I collegiate athlete – all while doing enough in the classroom to land on the Dean’s list while studying sports recreation and management.
“He was able to learn what to do and what not to do, on and off the court,” said Darnell Ford, who starred in basketball at Division II Southern Arkansas. “He was able to get accustomed to the speed of the game playing in the SEC. Keeping up with his school work. He soaked everything in like a sponge.”
Ford was a highly touted four-star prospect out of high school. He won three state titles with the Panthers and signed with Eric Musselman and the Razorbacks despite offers from the likes of Baylor, Kansas, Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, LSU and others.
He was part of a heralded signing class that included fellow in-staters Nick Smith Jr. of North Little Rock and Joseph Pinion of Morrilton, plus Barry Dunning Jr., Anthony Black and Jordan Walsh that at this point only has Pinion returning for a second year.
Despite Smith missing a majority of the season with knee problems, the play of Black and Davonte Davis kept Ford out of the rotation, and when Smith came back in mid-February, minutes were even harder to find.
What’s Next for Derrian Ford
Nick Smith Jr., Anthony Black and Jordan Walsh have all declared for the 2023 NBA Draft and it’s expected that all three will keep their names in by the May 31 deadline – although Walsh has left the door open to a possible return.
Joseph Pinion has recommitted to next season, as now both Derrian Ford and Barry Dunning Jr. initially said they were coming back only to enter the transfer portal a week or two later.
In the process, Eric Musselman has added Keyon Menifield Jr., Tramon Mark, Khalif Battle, Jeremiah Davenport and El Ellis in a transfer portal class that so far ranks No. 2 in the nation, according to On3.
Darnell said with the transfer portal, you don’t know who’s coming or who’s going or who’s staying.
“It’s made things a whole lot different, but Derrian has the blueprint,” Ford said. “He knows what coach Musselman expects and knows what coach Gus (Argenal) and what coach (Keith) Smart want. He knows the GAs. He knows his way around. Me knowing Derrian, both as his father and his trainer, he’s going to compete. You’re not going to out-work Derrian.”
In order to secure more playing time next season, Darnell thinks his son has one major prerogative: Be more aggressive. While Darnell was initially talking about Derrian with the Razorbacks, this would also apply to any new team.
“He’s very capable of it,” Ford said. “He was trying to get everybody involved when he got a chance. But he’s such a hard-nosed defender. You can ask anyone that was on last year’s team, no one wanted Derrian to guard them in practice. Ask Nick Smith, ask AB, ask Jordan. They didn’t want it. And he can shoot it. Coach Muss knows Derrian’s capabilities. He’s a downhill player. He’s a leader. That’s what he’s always been, ever since fourth grade.”
Connecticut landed an early knockout blow in the 2023 NCAA Tournament regional semifinal out in Las Vegas, but Arkansas got to see Ford come in late in the game and do some of the things that got him recruited in the first place, like attacking the rim, diving for loose balls and applying in-your-face defense.
The Goal for Arkansas Basketball
Larry Dunn, who is the performing arts director for Magnolia Public Schools, taught Derrian Ford from seventh grade on up in choir, and remembers his first meeting with Ford.
“I said, you’re the athlete I’ve heard about on the travel ball circuit,” Dunn said. “He immediately turned to me and said, ‘I like to sing, I lead songs at my church’ (a church of christ in Magnolia). It’s all acapella so you have to be good at leading.”
Dunn remarked that the things that stood out about him while he taught him was his mental toughness and his willingness to achieve high goals.
“He wasn’t the No. 1 singer or the most outstanding, but he was a competitor through and through,” Dunn said. “Whether it’s tying his shoe or breathing, Derrian wants to be the best. He was just as competitive in the choir room as he was on the court. He got all-region five times and was in our mixed choir which is the combined best between boys and girls.”
Even though Ford’s college commitment excited Dunn, a lifelong Razorback fan, he didn’t want to put any pressure on him to head to Fayetteville.
“I asked him after he made it official, ‘Why did you choose the Hogs?’” Dunn said. “And he said, ‘Mr. Dunn, I will win a national title at the University of Arkansas.’”
Unless Ford improbably withdraws from the transfer portal or pulls a Jimmy Whitt Jr. down the line and returns to Arkansas for a second stint, it doesn’t appear that will happen. But he gave it his best shot in a window of time that turned out to be much smaller than most imagined.
Derrian Ford’s Magnolia Career
Below are his rankings as a senior in high school:
• 247Composite #68 nation – #12 CG (4-Star)
• 247Sports #69 nation – #11 CG (4-Star)
• ESPN #71 nation – #12 SF (4-Star)
• Rivals #78 nation – #16 SG (4-Star)
• Rated #3 player in the state of Arkansas by ESPN and 247Sports
• Two-time (2021 and 2022) Class 4A Player of the Year by the Arkansas Basketball Coaches Association
• Two-time (2021 and 2022) Arkansas Democrat-Gazette first team All-Arkansas Preps (all divisions)
• Led Magnolia to three 4A state titles in four years and 102 wins over his career … Earned 4A State Tournament MVP three times
• Was 2022 4A State Tournament MVP, scoring 29 in the title game … Magnolia posted a perfect 30-0 record in 2022
• Averaged 23.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists as a senior
• Led the Panthers to a 23-1 record and the Class 4A semifinals in 2021
• Averaged 23.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists as a junior
• Class 4A State Tournament MVP as a freshman and sophomore, leading his team to back-to-back championships (2019 and 2020)
via Razorback Communications
More coverage of Arkansas basketball from BoAS…