Gen Z. They are a special people. Honest. Progressive. Wise beyond their years. They will lead this great country – nay, this great world – some day and that right soon.
They’re also obsessed with wearing fun shorts and the internet, especially social media. For crying out loud, the most lucrative NILs aren’t landed with the best players in sports across the United States. They’re landed with the most famous, most branded athletes. Social media has allowed for this. And, frankly, it’s pretty fantastic.
Players announce their playing decisions on their own, usually through Instagram or Twitter, complete with a comp’d ‘edit’ provided by someone hoping to ride coattails on up as the years pass. Nevermind that the word ‘edit’ isn’t a noun. Just think of it like ‘cringe’ as an adjective. The rules of long-standing grammar are folly in the face of The Youth.
Jordan Walsh Announcement
Jordan Walsh had an announcement to make. But before the Arkansas freshman wing declared on Wednesday morning that he’s entering the 2023 NBA Draft while retaining his eligibility, he had to announce he would be announcing.
Walsh released an incredibly cryptic video Monday evening hinting his decision was imminent. The 30-second clip, since taken down, had no dialogue, save a song that plays throughout titled “God Did” by Waily Abounamarr. Walsh appeared to be at Paul Quinn College, a religious NAIA school in his home metroplex of Dallas, and a place where he played AAU games when he was in high school. Somehow it seemed unlikely Walsh would announce he’s transferring to an NAIA program, though.
The 6-foot-7, 210-pounder is a borderline NBA Draft prospect who, at one point during the season, peaked as a potential mid-first-round selection. Most draft boards don’t include him now; however, some see him as a potential late-second rounder. His exit for the pro ranks seems the most likely outcome based on the limited evidence.
Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman has dealt with a double-digit amount of such decisions in just the last month. Now including Walsh, five players have already declared for the NBA draft. Two players have declared their intent to transfer. Three players have announced their returns. (Confusedly, Barry Dunning announced his return and entered the transfer portal in the span of a mere seven days.) Five players have been announced as arriving. And while Razorbacks fans wait on Makhi Mitchell to decide his intentions for next year, too, there was really just one person left whose decision felt like it really moves the needle.
Projecting the 2023-24 Arkansas Basketball Roster
Walsh now has until May 31 to withdraw from the 2023 NBA Draft and maintain his college eligibility, so he can still return to Arkansas for a second season. But at what cost?
Three of Arkansas’ commits via the transfer portal are more or less Walsh’s size. They weren’t recruited to sit the bench. Khalif Battle is the most perimeter of the three such at 6-foot-5 and only 175 pounds. Tramon Mark is a tweener type, off the ol’ Ricky Council tree, at 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds. And Jeremiah Davenport is the biggest at 6-foot-7 and 215 pounds.
Walsh is 6-foot-7 and 205. He isn’t large enough to guard interior players on the regular and he isn’t enough of a shooter to play on the perimeter. Heck, that’s why Musselman went and picked up those three players, plus El Ellis from Louisville and Keyon Menifield from Washington.
The Arkansas lineup, right now, looks like this for 2023-24:
- Bigs – Makhi Mitchell, Jalen Graham, Baye Fall
- Wing-forwards – Trevon Brazile, Jeremiah Davenport
- Wings/guards – Khalif Battle, Tramon Mark, Joseph Pinion, Derrian Ford
- On-ball guards – Layden Blocker, Keyon Menifield, El Ellis
Apologies to walk-ons Cade Arbogast and Lawson Blake as their practice efforts are important, but they’re non-factors and will be non-factors on the court during the season. Devo Davis could still return by removing his name from the NBA Draft.
All 12 players are highly touted and could play huge roles elsewhere, but they have decided on Fayetteville. Walsh could certainly return to a place among them, but if he is, someone who is devoting time and effort – probably Joseph Pinion, Derrian Ford, Jalen Graham and one of the transferred-in guards – is going to end up with far less playing time than was desired, or even expected, as major recruits. Things clean up somewhat if Walsh and Davis choose to stay in the draft.
Jordan Walsh and NBA Draft
So what did the video actually mean? At the time, it was good luck guessing. The context clues were minimally existent outside its location. He was going back to where it all started? Like “this is where I started and now it’s time for the next step” or the like. For now, Walsh joins certain first-rounders Nick Smith Jr. and Anthony Black, likely second-rounder Council and Arkansas guard Devo Davis, who isn’t on any significant draft boards and I think remains likely to return to Fayetteville for a fourth season.
Walsh has the tenacity and energy to make a play at the NBA level, though he’d likely play in the G League for a while developing his shot. He averaged 7.1 points and 3.9 rebounds in 24.4 minutes over 36 games for the Razorbacks, shooting 43% from the floor and 28% from 3-point range.
Before the influx of new players, many felt like Walsh’s ceiling to improve his NBA draft stock as a sophomore was quite high. “If he can earn a bigger offensive role next season, he has a chance to show some of the scoring punch we saw in high school,” 247Sports’ Adam Finkelstein wrote. “Back then, that came in the open floor and straight-line drive situations first and foremost. There’s no reason he can’t incorporate those aspects into his game more at the college level. Simultaneously, if he can became a more respectable open shooting threat from behind the arc, he’s a player that could certainly help himself.
Since the influx of five new Razorback basketball transfers, though, the opportunity to drastically improve on last year’s numbers in Fayetteville is limited. With the likes of Khalif Battle and El Ellis on board, not to mention a healthy Trevon Brazile, there simply wouldn’t be as many available shot attempts for someone like Walsh who until now has carved out a role as defensive force and utility man.
Walsh of course knows this. But he also knows he can only control his own game, and simply must improve in some critical areas regardless of where he ends up next season.
“Now that it’s the offseason, I have time to work on every other part of my game,” he told 247Sports’ Curtis Wilkerson. “A couple of big things I’m working on now include decision-making and knocking down the open shot from the three-point line. Those are my main focuses this offseason and things I want to improve in my game so that I’ll be successful in whatever area I’m heading to.”
Yes, Arkansas is a better team with Walsh than without, but college basketball hasn’t been about the team in multiple generations now. And let’s re-iterate: that isn’t a bad thing, just a thing that some older folks have a hard time coming to grips with.
Whether he chooses to stay in the draft or not, Walsh will be making the decision he feels is best for himself. It shouldn’t be any other way, either. His potential one-year sojourn in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains were important to his growth both on and off the basketball court and helped him come to whatever decision he chooses to make.
“What I’ve learned about myself and my game in this process is being able to embrace a role that is designed for you,” Walsh told Wilkerson. “Whether that’s going out and diving on the floor for loose balls and getting rebounds or it could be me just being loud on the bench and dapping up all my teammates. Just small stuff like that I felt like I had to learn and adjust to.”
That’s a lot of talk about teammates. Which makes me wonder: In the future, can we can avoid mystifying “announcement” videos where a clearly team-first player saunters alone down a court seemingly in a world of his own? Is that too much to ask? OK, probably it is.
Anyway, now we wait for yet another decision that must be made by May 31. Fun, isn’t it?
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