For about 40 hours, Arkansas basketball fans analyzed the teaser video Jordan Walsh released Monday evening like the Zapruder film. Those efforts can now stop, as he officially announced his decision Wednesday morning.
In an exclusive interview with HawgSports’ Curtis Wilkerson, the freshman revealed he is declaring for the 2023 NBA Draft while maintaining his collegiate eligibility.
“Just like playing in March Madness, this is another big dream I’ve had,” Walsh told HawgSports.
Players are allowed to go through the draft process — including participating in the NBA Draft Combine and signing with NCAA-approved agents — and still return to college if they withdraw their name by the 11:59 p.m. ET deadline on May 31.
Walsh is coming off a freshman season in which he started 22 of 36 games and averaged 7.1 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 24.4 minutes. The former five-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American could potentially join teammates Nick Smith Jr. and Anthony Black as one-and-done freshmen — something Arkansas never had until Moses Moody in 2021.
Jordan Walsh and the NBA Draft
Unlike that trio, though, Jordan Walsh is actually projected to hear his name called during the NBA Draft on June 22. Some mocks don’t include him, but others have him going in the second round.
In ESPN’s latest projection, which was released last week, Jonathan Givony and Jeremy Woo have Walsh going to the Suns with the 52nd overall pick.
That could be partially attributed to the fact that no one knew exactly what Walsh was going to do. In the immediate aftermath of the loss to UConn in the Sweet 16, he indicated that he’d return for his sophomore year.
“(The coaches are) putting a plan together for me to fully maximize myself and maximize the summer, so I’m excited to get back on the grind and come back and be able to do whatever it takes to win,” Walsh told reporters in the locker room in Las Vegas.
While some fans may have taken that as a definitive statement of his intent to return, that was never the case. It is never a good idea to put too much stock into postgame comments when emotions are still raw.
Nick Smith Jr. also made several references to “next year” in his interview after the game and several years ago, while Bobby Portis made similar comments after he was knocked out of the NCAA Tournament.
Perhaps, though, it’s just human nature for fans to read too much into such emotional proclamations.
It makes sense for Walsh to at least test the waters and get feedback from scouts. Considering he’s already projected as a second-round pick, it would be easy to see his stock continue to rise because his elite athleticism should be on full display in workouts and he’s a great interview.
There is also a legitimate case for him to return for his sophomore year and potentially turn himself into a first-round pick. He told HawgSports that the areas he’s most hoping to improve this summer — regardless of his final choice — are “decision-making and knocking down the open shot from the 3-point line.”
However, there are recent examples of Arkansas basketball players slipping to the second round of the NBA Draft and still having success at the next level — Daniel Gafford, Isaiah Joe and Jaylin Williams.
The Challenge of Replacing Jordan Walsh
If he keeps his name in the NBA Draft and doesn’t return to college, Jordan Walsh will be uniquely difficult to replace for the Arkansas basketball team.
Most of the players the Razorbacks are bringing in can be compared to those on their way out.
For example, Tramon Mark is an elite defender who can also score, particularly in the mid-range. Based on reports from his time at Houston, he would be a slightly taller version of Davonte Davis if Davis opts to stay in the draft.
Unfortunately, 6-foot-7 point guards like Anthony Black and No. 1 overall recruits like Nick Smith Jr. don’t grow on trees, but the Razorbacks have seemingly addressed the loss of the projected lottery picks by bringing in five-star freshman Layden Blocker and a pair of high-major transfers — Keyon Menifield Jr. from Washington and El Ellis from Louisville — who can really score, as well as distribute.
From a size perspective, Jeremiah Davenport from Cincinnati is the closest to Walsh. They’re both 6-foot-7, with Davenport listed 10 pounds heavier. However, they do not bring the same skillset to the table.
Defensively, Walsh used his 6-foot-7 frame and 7-foot-3 wingspan to swallow up opponents playing various positions. He also has a reported 46-inch vertical, which helped him make plays like when he tipped a missed free throw back to Ricky Council in the closing minutes of Arkansas’ upset win over Kansas.
Those kinds of things may not show up in the box score, but Eric Musselman constantly mentioned them as being critical to the Razorbacks’ success. He was the very definition of an ‘X-factor’ for Arkansas.
Finding someone with that combination of size and athleticism who is also willing to defend at a similar level will be challenging for Musselman and the Razorbacks, but they are likely on the hunt for another defensive-minded forward in the event he does leave.
Updated 2023-24 Arkansas Basketball Roster
When they landed El Ellis out of the transfer portal earlier this week, the Razorbacks went one over the 13-man scholarship limit.
That, of course, assumes the return of both Davonte Davis and Jordan Walsh, who are testing the NBA Draft waters, and Makhi Mitchell, who is the only player from last year’s team yet to publicly announce his plans for next season.
More than likely, one of those players will have to move on to make room for the entire five-man transfer class, as well as incoming freshmen Layden Blocker and Baye Fall.
As seen with Barry Dunning Jr. last week, there’s a chance someone who’s already said they’re returning — such as Jalen Graham, Joseph Pinion or Derrian Ford — could leave, but more than likely, it will be at least one of the trio of Davis, Walsh and Mitchell.
If the Razorbacks remain active in the transfer portal, which is always possible with Eric Musselman at the helm, then more than one of them would have to leave.
Here’s an updated look at the 2023-24 Arkansas basketball roster, as it currently stands:
- Jalen Graham — super senior
- Makhi Mitchell — super senior (yet to announce his decision)
- Jeremiah Davenport — super senior (transfer from Cincinnati)
- El Ellis — super senior (transfer from Louisville)
- Davonte Davis — senior (testing NBA Draft waters)
- Tramon Mark — redshirt junior (transfer from Houston)
- Khalif Battle — redshirt junior (transfer from Temple)
- Trevon Brazile — redshirt sophomore
- Jordan Walsh — sophomore (testing NBA Draft waters)
- Keyon Menifield Jr. — sophomore (transfer from Washington)
- Joseph Pinion — sophomore
- Derrian Ford — sophomore
- Layden Blocker — freshman (2023 signee)
- Baye Fall — freshman (2023 signee)
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