What Other Top-Rated Transfers Tell Us about Johnell Davis’ Potential for Hogs

Johnell Davis, Caleb Love, Arkansas basketball, transfer portal
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics / Arizona Athletics

It didn’t take long for John Calipari to live up to his reputation as the greatest basketball recruiter of all time after moving to Arkansas.

While his first four roster additions were all former Kentucky players, signees or commits, the new Head Hog made two big splashes in the transfer portal earlier this week by landing Tennessee big man Jonas Aidoo and Florida Atlantic guard Johnell Davis in consecutive days. Getting two physical veterans on board shows how the portal has changed the recruiting priorities of both Calipari and the rest of the sport as a whole.

The signing of Davis, in particular, gives Arkansas the sort of big fish that fans had dreamed of when the hiring of Calipari – and the assembly of a reportedly massive NIL chest – was announced. The 6-foot-4 junior averaged 18.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists while shooting 41% from behind the arc. Alongside five-star point guard Boogie Fland, the Razorbacks will have quite the backcourt duo going into next season.

Davis will reportedly receive an NIL package north of $1 million, according to Jeff Goodman. Sealing his commitment shows a major flex of muscle by Calipari, and a message to the rest of the country that Arkansas is going to be a player at the national level.

The Gary, Ind., native is the No. 1 player in the portal according to On3 and the No. 2 transfer in the country in 247Sports’ rankings. With the landscape of college basketball being turned on its head by the portal in the last few years, it’s worth taking a look at how previous top-ranked transfers have performed at their new schools for a ballpark idea of the kind of impact Davis could have at Arkansas.

Trio of Arkansas-Connected Transfers Shine

The unanimous No. 1 player in the portal last offseason was former Michigan center Hunter Dickinson, who ended up committing to Kansas despite heavy interest from Eric Musselman and Arkansas. The senior ended up starring for the Jayhawks with a standout campaign that garnered All-America honors as he averaged 17.9 points and 10.9 rebounds per game.

But Dickinson’s individual success did not translate to consistent team results, as the Jayhawks failed to win the Big 12 and were bounced from the NCAA Tournament on the first weekend. After entering the season ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll, Kansas fell well short of expectations. Fortunately for head coach Bill Self, Dickinson announced that he is returning for his super senior season to address some unfinished business.

The other name in the portal that received the most attention was Caleb Love, who moved from North Carolina to Arizona after starring in the Tar Heels’ Final Four run. With the Wildcats, Love lived up to the hype and was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year after averaging 18 points and 3.4 assists per game. Arizona won the conference title en route to a 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where it reached the Sweet 16.

247Sports’ No. 2 player in the portal in 2023 was seven-footer Kel’el Ware, the North Little Rock product who skipped out on Arkansas and landed at Oregon before transferring to Indiana. There, the former McDonald’s All-American found his footing after an underwhelming freshman season with the Ducks. Ware averaged 15.9 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in his sophomore year, earning All-Big Ten honors. He declared for the NBA Draft after the season and will likely be a first-round selection.

The possibility of Ware in a Razorback jersey will be a “what if” for Arkansas for years to come, but questions about his work ethic and his desire to play for the Hogs led Musselman to steer clear of him at the time. It’s safe to say the kid’s done alright for himself since then.

Another prospect that Arkansas was in the conversation for was former North Dakota State unicorn forward Grant Nelson, whose highlight tape had everyone impressed. He was the third-ranked transfer according to 247Sports, and the Razorbacks were widely considered to be the favorite in his recruitment, but he eventually landed at Alabama. While his regular season was a mixed bag, everything came together for him in the postseason as he helped lead the Tide to the Final Four.

Nelson’s talent was on full display when he dropped double-doubles against both North Carolina and UCONN in the NCAA Tournament. He has since announced his return to Tuscaloosa for another season, and will surely be a thorn in Arkansas’ side when the two teams meet next year.

Hunter DickinsonStatsShooting Percentages
Michigan (2022-23)32.7 min., 18.5 pts., 9.0 reb., 1.5 ast., 1.8 blk.56.0% FG, 42.1% 3PT, 72.7% FT
Kansas (2023-24)32.2 min., 17.9 pts., 10.9 reb., 2.3 ast., 1.4 blk.54.8% FG, 35.4% 3PT, 62.4% FT
Caleb LoveStatsShooting Percentages
North Carolina (2022-23)35.7 min., 16.7 pts., 3.7 reb., 2.8 ast., 1.1 stl.37.8% FG, 29.9% 3PT, 76.5% FT
Arizona (2023-24)32.3 min., 18.0 pts., 4.8 reb., 3.4 ast., 1.2 stl.41.3% FG, 33.2% 3PT, 83.9% FT
Kel’el WareStatsShooting Percentages
Oregon (2022-23)15.8 min., 6.6 pts., 4.1 reb., 0.5 ast., 1.3 blk.45.7% FG, 27.3% 3PT, 71.2% FT
Indiana (2023-24)32.2 min., 15.9 pts., 9.9 reb., 1.5 ast., 1.9 blk.58.6% FG, 42.5% 3PT, 63.4% FT

Davis’ Move Mirrors Familiar Mid-Major Star

Max Abmas, who was On3’s No. 2 transfer in the 2023 cycle, is perhaps the closest comp to Johnell Davis. 

Abmas played four years for Oral Roberts, scoring over 20 points per game in three of those seasons and leading the Golden Eagles to a miraculous Sweet 16 run in 2021, where the Cinderella 15-seed was knocked out by none other than Arkansas. He essentially achieved everything he could have at the mid-major level, delivering a conference championship and an unprecedented tournament run to his school.

After earning his degree, Abmas went to Texas as a graduate transfer and averaged 16.8 points and 4.1 assists per game as the Longhorns’ starting point guard.

Similarly, Davis played four years at Florida Atlantic, leading the Owls to a conference title and an improbable Final Four run in 2022. He followed it up this year by winning AAC co-Player of the Year and helping FAU back to the Big Dance. For his final year of college eligibility, he decided to take his talents to the SEC and play for Arkansas.

While the new era in college athletics gets a lot of flak for hurting the integrity of the game, the cases of Abmas and Davis illustrate the positives of the transfer portal. Here are two guys who played four years for their schools and earned their degree while taking their respective programs to new heights. Then, for their last year in college, they decided to showcase their talents on the national stage. That’s what the portal should be all about.

Max AbmasStatsShooting Percentages
Oral Roberts (2022-23)36.0 min., 21.9 pts., 4.4 reb., 4.0 ast., 1.1 stl.43.6% FG, 37.3% 3PT, 91.9% FT
Texas (2023-24)35.1 min., 16.8 pts., 3.1 reb., 4.1 ast., 0.9 stl.42.5% FG, 36.2% 3PT, 90.0% FT

Remembering the Top Transfers of 2022

247Sports’ top player in the portal in the 2022 offseason was 6-foot-9 forward Emoni Bates, who made the surprising move from Memphis to his hometown school at Eastern Michigan. As the former No. 1 overall prospect in the high school class of 2021, few expected to see Bates at the mid-major level after a prolific high school career that garnered early comparisons to the likes of Kevin Durant.

Bates averaged 19.2 points per game as a sophomore at EMU and was selected 49th overall in the 2023 NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The No. 2 transfer that year was departing Iowa State guard Tyrese Hunter, a former five-star in his own right. Hunter landed at Texas and has spent the last two seasons there, averaging 11.1 points and 4.1 assists per game as a junior. Interestingly, he is back in the portal once again this offseason.

ESPN and CBS both listed reigning AAC Player of the Year Kendric Davis as the top portal prospect. After a successful time at SMU, he made the cross-conference move to Memphis and took his game up a notch, averaging 21.9 points and 5.4 assists per game in his final season.

Tyrese HunterStatsShooting Percentages
Iowa State (2021-22)31.9 min., 11.0 pts., 3.5 reb., 4.9 ast., 2.0 stl.39.1% FG, 27.4% 3PT, 68.7% FT
Texas (2022-23)30.3 min., 10.3 pts., 3.0 reb., 2.5 ast., 0.8 stl.39.4% FG, 33.7% 3PT, 80.0% FT
Kendric DavisStatsShooting Percentages
SMU (2021-22)34.6 min., 19.4 pts., 3.8 reb., 4.4 ast., 1.5 stl.43.9% FG, 37.2% 3PT, 86.8% FT
Memphis (2022-23)34.9 min., 21.9 pts., 3.7 reb., 5.4 ast., 2.0 stl.41.4% FG, 34.6% 3PT, 85.4% FT

Mixed Results for Top 2021 Transfers

Marcus Carr’s switch from Minnesota to Texas received a lot of hype after he scored over 19 points per game for the Golden Gophers. He was rated the top transfer by both CBS and ESPN. Over his two seasons as a Longhorn, he was a double-digit scorer, but the team never really reached the heights that were expected of them during Chris Beard’s tumultuous tenure in charge.

Remy Martin was another noteworthy transfer, as he moved to Kansas after averaging 19.1 points and 3.7 assists per game at Arizona State. While his averages dropped substantially with the Jayhawks, he still played an essential role as the floor general on a team that went on to win the national title.

A name that Arkansas basketball fans will be familiar with is that of Walker Kessler, a highly-touted seven-footer who entered the portal after being underutilized in his freshman season at UNC. He transferred to Auburn and eventually became a lottery pick after averaging 11.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and a preposterous 4.6 blocks on the Tigers’ SEC title-winning team.

Marcus CarrStatsShooting Percentages
Minnesota (2020-21)35.8 min., 19.4 pts., 4.0 reb., 4.9 ast., 1.3 ast.38.5% FG, 31.7% 3PT, 79.9% FT
Texas (2021-22)30.9 min., 11.4 pts., 1.9 reb., 3.4 ast., 0.9 stl.39.4% FG, 33.8% 3PT, 76.9% FT
Remy MartinStatsShooting Percentages
Arizona State (2020-21)33.5 min., 19.1 pts., 2.8 reb., 3.7 ast., 1.2 stl.43.3% FG, 34.6% 3PT, 77.6% FT
Kansas (2021-22)21.1 min., 8.6 pts., 3.0 reb., 2.5 ast., 0.6 stl.46.2% FG, 38.2% 3PT, 75.4% FT
Walker KesslerStatsShooting Percentages
North Carolina (2020-21)8.8 min., 4.4 pts., 3.2 reb., 0.5 stl., 0.9 blk.57.8% FG, 25.0% 3PT, 53.7% FT
Auburn (2021-22)25.6 min., 11.4 pts., 8.1 reb., 1.1 stl., 4.6 blk.60.8% FG, 20.0% 3PT, 59.6% FT

Expectations for Johnell Davis at Arkansas

The move from the AAC to the SEC will be a big jump for Johnell Davis, but not one that he isn’t prepared for. After starring in a Final Four run and facing plenty of high-major opponents during his time at FAU, he’s more than familiar with high-level competition.

Many mid-major transfers face a steeper learning curve when adapting to the highest level of college basketball, but as seen with the case of Abmas, it helps a lot to have previous postseason experience.

Judging from the patterns seen in previous high-caliber transfers, Davis’ individual numbers will likely take a slight dip in the upcoming season simply due to the fact that he’ll be sharing the ball with a much more talented supporting cast. It’s his scoring efficiency as a shooter, though, that will prove to be most key to Arkansas’ success. It certainly wouldn’t be out of the question to see Davis challenge for All-SEC honors this year.

Undoubtedly, the presence of a well-rounded veteran with Final Four experience will be a massive plus for Calipari as he continues to build his first roster at Arkansas.


More on Johnell Davis’ expected impact starting at 3:50 here:

YouTube video
YouTube video
YouTube video


More coverage of Arkansas basketball and the transfer portal from BoAS… 

Facebook Comments