In basketball, “triple-double” usually refers to notching double-digit points, rebounds and assists in one game, but the Razorback basketball program could be ushering in a new meaning soon.
Under the leadership of Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman, the Razorbacks have already delivered a single “triple” when it comes to signing three 5-star recruits in a single season. That, of course, would be current freshmen Nick Smith Jr, Anthony Black and Jordan Walsh, all of whom are projected to be first-round picks in the 2023 NBA Draft by various outlets.
It’s early going, but what was once the faint outline of back-to-back classes of three 5-star recruits is coming into sharper focus after a couple of recent developments involving the class of 2023. First, Arkansas commit Layden Blocker (the only of the class of 2023 so far) put on a show on the EYBL circuit this July, punctuated by an embarrassment of Bronny James. The Little Rock native made a strong case for moving from a high 4-star to 5-star status, and most recruiting analysts believe he will soon gain that extra star.
But Arkansas is also going strong after a few class of 2023 players ranked considerably higher than Blocker, and on Thursday one of them got a Rivals forecast prediction to the Razorbacks.
Baye Fall and Arkansas Basketball Recruiting
Baye Fall is a consensus top 15 talent who, at 6’10”-6’11” and 205 pounds with a 7’5″ wingspan, has the kind of hyper-athletic build combined with the foundation for elite skills that only come along very rarely (think Kevin Garnett, Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo). Earlier in July, Rivals national recruiting analyst Travis Graf put in a FutureCast prediction for the Hogs getting his commitment. On Thursday, Hawgbeat’s Arkansas basketball reporter Jackson Collier did the same with his own prediction.
Although Arkansas is considered the front-runner in his recruitment, he has a slew of offers from the likes of Arizona, Baylor, Kansas, Texas Tech and others.
The Razorbacks were actually the first program Fall visited and, luckily for them, he was on hand for their big 75-73 win over No. 6 Kentucky in front of a frenzied sell-out crowd on Feb. 26. That left an impression of the big man, who told Graf of Arkansas: “I like their style of play and their environment. I went there for the Kentucky game and like what I saw. Their play style fits me and coach Muss is a great coach.”
There’s already talk of him returning to campus this autumn.
A return visit would further solidify Arkansas’ spot in the driver’s seat of his recruitment, but Auburn also looms large. Fall used his first official visit to check out the Tigers last month and they appear to be legitimate contenders to land his services. “Same as Arkansas, style of play,” he told Graf. “I went there for an official visit a couple weeks ago and like what I saw and I like the environment, the players and chemistry that they have with the coach [Bruce Pearl]. It feels like family over there.”
According to Rivals basketball recruiting director Rob Cassidy, Fall will visit Texas on Sept. 10 when the Longhorns’ football team hosts Alabama. He also mentioned Rutgers as a “sleeper,” plus Fall has previously taken an unofficial visit to Seton Hall.
One critical piece of this recruitment will likely be whether the team signing Fall also has space for his cousin Assane Diop, a top 100 recruit in the same class. Fall told Graf that he and Diop would like to play together and “we’ll probably end up going to the same school.”
Arkansas has also been recruiting Diop “very hard,” Collier wrote, which bodes well for the Razorbacks’ chances.
Ron Holland Still Out There
The last piece to the puzzle would likely be the No. 1 recruit in Texas, Ron Holland, who was teammates with Anthony Black at Duncanville High this past season. The 6-8 Holland recently led the Team USA 17U team to a gold medal and is ranked as the nation’s No. 4 rising senior according to ESPN.
Earlier in the summer, Holland narrowed his possible destinations to Arkansas, UCLA, Kentucky, Texas and the NBA G League.
In Texas and Kentucky, Arkansas is battling two of its fiercest rivals for the services of someone with the potential of becoming the next great Texan Razorback. In the past decades, Texas natives like Oliver Miller and Mason Jones have played played major roles in building the Arkansas basketball program (not to mention Nolan Richardson was Texan). But there has been a recent definite uptick in Lone Star talent with two McDonald’s All-Americans originally from Texas (Anthony Black, Jordan Walsh) currently on the team.
In the big picture, most of the top commitments in the class of 2023 are not yet committed. However, Duke already has four five-star commitments, according to the 247Sports Composite, in Mackenzie Mgbako, Sean Stewart, Caleb Foster and Jared McCain. Just as Arkansas and Duke battled in the 2022 Elite Eight and for the top spot in the 2022 recruiting class, they could be at it again soon when it comes to fighting for the No. 1 ranking in the class of 2023.
Just a few dominoes need to fall first, but at least a couple of those look to be on the brink of toppling over with the recent news about Blocker and Fall.
Historical Perspective on Another 5-Star Trio
Arkansas is already one of only 12 programs to accomplish the feat once, but if things do fall just right and it ends up with yet another trio of five-star prospects in the 2023 class, it’d enter truly rarified air when it comes to basketball recruiting.
During the 247Sports Composite era, which spans two decades now (2003-22), only four programs have secured multiple classes with at least three five-star recruits in the same year. The list matches up with what most fans and media agree are “blue blood” programs in the sport: Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina and Kansas.
Of those four, only Kentucky and Duke – which have signed several classes with three or more five-star recruits – have accomplished the feat in consecutive years. The Tar Heels’ and Jayhawks’ two classes like that occurred 14 and eight years apart, respectively.
Baye Fall’s High School Situation Is….Unusual
The fact that Fall, a native Senegalese who is named after a tribe with males who often rock dreadlocks, has attended a basketball-oriented prep school should barely register surprise in this day and age. Almost every major college team has players coming from such private or charter school backgrounds.
Fall, however, is unusual in how rapidly he’s spun through these schools and how his go-around last season ended.
After leading a small school to a Colorado state championship in 2020-21, Fall transferred to the newly established Denver Prep Academy, a basketball prep academy and in 10 games he averaged 14.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. He played in something called the Grind Session League that also included another new basketball prep academy, the Donda Academy, which was founded by Kanye West.
In the school, class time was “organized around early morning practice, afternoon workouts, and games played on national circuits to maximize exposure. Many DPA players lived together in a house next door to the team’s practice gym. DPA rented classroom space from August through May in the Westwood Community Center with a staff of five licensed teachers,” The Denver Post’s Kyle Fredrickson wrote.
Then, in late February, Baye Fall was dismissed from his academy for “conduct of concern and violations of team rules,” the DPA wrote in a statement provided to The Denver Post.
It continued: “At DPA, we pride ourselves on providing students and athletes a positive, structured environment designed to promote personal development. We talk about it all the time. A basketball team is more than just a team. It’s a family and an organization, and each and every member is expected to uphold certain standards and expectations. When you don’t hold yourself to those standards and expectations, you no longer have a place on this team. We’re going to operate at a high level here on and off the court, regardless of wins and losses.
“Baye is an extremely talented player and we wish him all the best for his future playing career.”
Assane Diop, who also played for DPA, ended up leaving the team with his cousin. Losing two standout players like that wasn’t very good for business, apparently, and the school shuttered its doors in June. Now, the Denver Post reports, Fall and Diop will play for yet another first-year basketball prep academy – Accelerated Prep.
See Fall’s frighteningly accurate fade-away shot here:
And how he does against other big men in this video vs North Little Rock native Kel’el Ware: