FAYETTEVILLE — It won’t be in a burnt orange uniform, but Jordan Walsh could fulfill a prophecy set forth by Chris Beard during the recruiting process.
Although he finished his high school career a Link Academy in Missouri, the ultra-athletic five-star is originally from Desoto, Texas, so naturally the Longhorns came after him hard.
Walsh, of course, ultimately picked Arkansas over Texas and a slew of other schools. He’ll return to his home state with the Razorbacks this weekend when they take on the Longhorns in a charity exhibition game at 3 p.m. CT Saturday.
It will be the first game inside the Moody Center, Texas’ new $375 million facility.
“I went on a visit to Texas, too, and one of their pitches was, ‘We’re building a new arena. You could potentially be the first person to ever score in this arena,’” Walsh said. “I remember that, and now we’re getting to play them in the first game there and I still have that chance. That is a pretty cool thing.”
The Razorbacks actually have a pair of Texans on their roster, as fellow five-star freshman Anthony Black hails from Duncanville. They’re also actively recruiting other players from the Lone Star State, most notably 2023 five-star prospect Ron Holland, who’s also from Duncanville and is expected to attend Saturday’s exhibition.
“Certainly in the state of Texas, that logo means a lot and Coach Beard does a great job,” head coach Eric Musselman said. “He’s a very good recruiter. It’s always a hard decision for any recruit. We’ve been on the other end of it, as well, where it comes down to one or two other places.
“But certainly really excited and happy that Jordan and Anthony get to play a game in the state of Texas for an exhibition game. I think it’s great for their families and friends to be able to travel and see them.”
Jordan Walsh talks about the upcoming Arkansas vs Texas exhibition:
Experiencing the Arkansas vs Texas Rivalry
Anyone old enough to remember Arkansas’ time in the Southwest Conference, or knows someone who is, doesn’t need a history lesson to know how the Razorbacks feel about Texas.
It was a heated rivalry across all sports and, even though it won’t actually count toward the 2022-23 record, Arkansas is treating it as such. After all, Davonte Davis and Kamani Johnson — the two holdovers from last season’s team — got to experience it first-hand last year when the football team smacked the Longhorns 40-21 and the fans stormed the field.
“It’s going to be really fun,” Johnson said. “First game and first game in their stadium, what better way to start the year than beating them in their first (game) in their stadium. That’s our challenge, and that’s what we’re going there to do.”
With a team full of new faces — six freshmen and five transfers — it would be understandable if that fact was lost on the team, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.
Even though he grew up in the state, Walsh said he wasn’t aware of the rivalry until he went through the recruiting process. He included both schools among his top choices and quickly got a taste of how the two fan bases felt about each other.
“It was like, ‘Okay, Jordan, you have Arkansas and Texas on this list, like, somebody is going to hate you after, but you’ve got to pick one,’” Walsh said. “It was kind of crazy. I didn’t realize how crazy it went until I started seeing things on Twitter with Horns Down and people were talking trash. I was like, ‘Okay, this is serious, like, y’all ain’t playing games.”
Unlike the football series, which Texas leads 56-23, Arkansas holds the edge in men’s basketball. The Razorbacks are 87-68 all-time against the Longhorns, but again, this game will not count toward that record because it’s an exhibition.
Arkansas basketball fans are well aware of the fact that the Razorbacks’ No. 2 signing class featured a trio of five-star recruits who also played in the McDonald’s All-American game.
Making the exhibition game Saturday afternoon even more intriguing is the fact that the Longhorns also signed a pair of five-star, McDonald’s All-Americans in Dillon Mitchell and Arterio Morris. There were ranked No. 5 and No. 17, respectively, in the 247Sports Composite.
Throw in the Razorbacks’ trio of Nick Smith Jr., Jordan Walsh and Anthony Black, and five of the top 19 players in the Class of 2022 will be suited up for the exhibition.
(READ NEXT: What Jordan Walsh’s Role Might Look Like in 2022-23)
Being from the DFW area in Texas, Walsh said he actually got to know Morris pretty well because he played at Kimball High School in Dallas.
He’s also familiar with Mitchell, whose team at Montverde Academy — the same prep school that Moses Moody attended — knocked off Walsh and Link Academy 60-49 to win the GEICO High School Nationals, essentially a national championship game. That makes it a “real revenge game for me,” Walsh said.
Despite the game’s designation as an exhibition, Walsh is treating it like it counts because of those connections.
“This is kind of a set-the-tone type of game in my mind that I really want to win, not only because it’s a game on our schedule but also because it’s a Texas game at their home,” Walsh said. “It’s people that I kind of, like, know and have been knowing. I really want to beat them. It’s real personal for me.”
The Musselman-Beard Rivalry
This will also mark the third time Arkansas coach Eric Musselman and Texas coach Chris Beard have squared off against each other.
It’s been nearly five years since Musselman’s Nevada team dropped a heartbreaker to Beard’s Texas Tech team in Lubbock. The Wolf Pack lost 82-76 in overtime and Musselman still talks about how great of an atmosphere it was — even if he didn’t agree with the officiating in the closing minutes of overtime.
A game Arkansas basketball fans probably remember, and one Musselman likely has fonder memories of, came in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. The Razorbacks survived for a 68-66 over Texas Tech and Beard to advance to their first Sweet 16 in 25 years.
Musselman has said numerous times that he respects Beard and the way his teams play.
“His teams are really well-coached, they’re really physical, they’re really hard to score on,” Musselman said. “I think Coach Beard is as good a coach as any coach in America. I love how physical they are. They make it really difficult to score the ball, based on physicality.”
First Scouting Report of 2022-23
As a former NBA head coach with extensive experience at the professional level, one of Eric Musselman’s biggest strengths as a coach is how well he prepares his team from a scouting report perspective.
He didn’t do any scouting ahead of the Europe trip or the exhibition against Rogers State, but has introduced the Razorbacks to it this week. It’s truly an introduction, too, as there are only two holdovers from last year’s team on the roster: Davonte Davis and Kamani Johnson.
“One thing about Muss as a coach, he’s going to have you prepared for the game,” Johnson said. “You’re going to know everybody’s tendencies, their weaknesses, their strengths, the plays, everything. I legit sometimes don’t know he’s getting this information. It’s insane. We legit know everything — probably what the guy ate for breakfast this morning.”
For everyone else — an 11-man class consisting of six freshmen and five transfers — this is an entirely new experience, so getting to do it for a game that doesn’t actually count as a trial run is a plus for the Razorbacks.
“Even though I’ve been playing against these guys for forever, since high school and since before high school, I’m reading the scouting report and it’s telling me stuff about them I didn’t even know,” Walsh said. “I’m like, ‘Okay, wow. You’re really breaking this down to a whole different level.’ It’s really amazing to see how Coach Muss’ brain works when it comes to stuff like this.”
Unfortunately, Arkansas didn’t get quite as in-depth as Musselman would have liked. One of the downfalls of having such a talented team is that NBA executives and scouts are frequent attendees at practice.
That was the case for the Razorbacks on Wednesday and Thursday. Included among the visitors was David Fizdale, a former assistant under Musselman at Golden State and former NBA head coach who is now the assistant general manager of the Utah Jazz.
“Moving forward we will probably encourage NBA people to not come when we’re doing prep stuff because I respect their time and I know what they want to see,” Musselman said. “I can promise you it’s not preparation for another college team. It’s guys getting up and down and so on and so forth. Our preparation will probably be a little bit less than what I hoped for.”
On top of that, Musselman didn’t sound particularly pleased with how the Razorbacks practiced Wednesday.
“We need to practice a heck of a lot better than we did yesterday, I can promise you that,” Musselman said. “What that was yesterday at times I’m not quite sure, but it was not a good practice, I know that.”
Kamani Johnson talks about the upcoming Arkansas vs Texas exhibition game:
Looking Ahead to Arkansas vs Texas
Minutes were much more evenly distributed in the Rogers State exhibition than what Eric Musselman is used to doing as a head coach. That will change moving forward, beginning with Saturday against Texas.
The fourth-year coach has assured reporters that he won’t be playing all 13 scholarship players in the first half again, but that’s about all he was willing to share regarding his rotation. While part of that is not wanting to reveal too much, it also sounds like roles are still being developed and the lineup is a work in progress.
“In no way, shape or form are we set that this is the starting lineup even for Saturday, because yesterday we made a few changes even as practice progressed,” Musselman said. “Unlike maybe sometimes in the past where I said ‘Hey, this group’s going to start for 10 games and then we’ll reevaluate’, this is going to be much more of a game-by-game, probably, discussion amongst the coaching staff.”
Rather than facing a sacrificial lamb that the Division II Hillcats were on Monday, Saturday will be a true test against a Texas team that checked in at No. 12 in the preseason AP Poll, two spots behind Arkansas.
With Musselman tightening the rotation and the Razorbacks having to go on the road, it will be the first measuring stick for what many believe could be a special season and one that could pay dividends down the road in the form of experience.
“This is probably the closest that we’re going to get to an SEC crowd until we get to the SEC (games) hostility-wise,” Kamani Johnson said. “As we do have a lot of new (guys), a lot of transfers and freshmen, I do think playing in his atmosphere so early is going to be really good for us down the road. I’m ready to see how we perform under the lights.”
However, it is just an exhibition game. It won’t be factored into the all-important NET rankings used by the NCAA Tournament selection committee and won’t end up on Arkansas’ — or Texas’ — tournament resume come March.
Even though he knows it won’t prevent fans from overreacting based on the result, Musselman did point out that neither team will look the same five months from now.
“I think Coach Beard says it best — both teams are going to get better after this game,” Musselman said. “One team’s going to win and one team’s not going to win, but the one guarantee is that both teams will somehow figure out a way to get better after this 40 minutes of basketball.”
Still, the exhibition nature of the game hasn’t kept the players from treating it like a real game. In fact, Johnson admitted it had been circled on his calendar since the game was announced.
“Man, it’s an exhibition game for sure, but I would be lying to you if I said we didn’t know what’s at stake and the opportunity we have,” Johnson said. “It means a lot to us, so we’re just going to tip the ball up and see what we can do, but we’re definitely going down there to win. This counts for us, for sure.”
Check out what Eric Musselman and Chris Beard had to say leading up to the exhibition game:
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