FAYETTEVILLE — The SEC has officially been put on notice: Stand between Ricky Council IV and the basket at your own risk this season.
One of Arkansas’ five portal additions this season, the Wichita State transfer brings elite athleticism to Fayetteville and the media caught a glimpse of when head coach Eric Musselman graciously opened up a 45-minute portion of Wednesday’s practice.
During a 5-on-5 scrimmage segment, Council caught a pass in the corner, drove baseline and took off, throwing down a thunderous dunk. The play actually bent the rim — much to the dismay of a graduate assistant, who had to knock it back in place by throwing a basketball at it.
Even on a roster loaded with athleticism, the 6-foot-6 guard from Durham, N.C., stands out and has caught the attention of his teammates.
“Ricky is unbelievable,” freshman Nick Smith Jr. said. “Ricky is crazy. I haven’t seen anything like that before. I’ve literally seen him walk under the basket and do a between-the-legs (dunk), literally under the basket, not even trying. That’s how crazy his athleticism (is). I thought I was athletic until I saw Ricky. … Whoever jumps with Ricky this year, it’s probably gonna be a problem.”
“(You’ll) get baptized,” fellow freshman Anthony Black chipped in, while Trevon Brazile provided a PSA: “Don’t jump with Ricky Council.”
That dunk may have been the highlight, but it wasn’t Best of Arkansas Sports’ only takeaway from the viewing period of practice…
- Wednesday was the third of 10 full, two-hour practices the Razorbacks are allowed to have ahead of their foreign tour, which is an 11-day trip with stops in Spain and Italy. Previously, Arkansas was much more limited in their time together on the court. The team leaves Fayetteville on Aug. 6 and returns Aug. 16, playing four games in between.
- Because they’re going overseas and playing by FIBA rules, the Razorbacks practiced with FIBA basketballs and a 24-second shot clock. They also practiced without air conditioning to simulate their upcoming games, as none of the gyms are expected to have A/C.
- Early in the viewing period, Arkansas did a drill that involved three players running down the floor, with two of them taking a 3 from the wing and one going to the hoop for a layup/dunk. The goal was to hit 140 points in three minutes, but it came up short with 135, so Musselman made them do it again. The second time, it got to 138. Musselman called the team together and challenged them to hit 145 the third go-around. This time, the Razorbacks answered the call and actually hit 168.
- That was just the first of several moments Musselman had to yell at the team for its hustle. At another point, he got on Makhel Mitchell for not running the floor on a fast break. It may not have been related, but immediately after that, Musselman made the entire team do a 2-minute drill that essentially consisted of players running up and down the court for fast-break layups.
- As expected, Nick Smith Jr. and Anthony Black were the primary ball handlers for the two teams in 5-on-5 work and the both looked very comfortable running the show. Smith was particularly impressive, as he looked smooth in pretty much everything he did — from throwing passes ahead for a dunk by Jordan Walsh to pull-up jumpers and 3-point shots.
Watch 16 unedited minutes of Wednesday’s practice here:
Devo Davis Provides Leadership for Arkansas Basketball
A lot of the excitement surrounding this Arkansas basketball team has been centered on the 11 newcomers and understandably so, considering it brought in the No. 2 signing class and one of the best transfer hauls in the country.
However, the Razorbacks do return two scholarship players from last year’s squad in guard Davonte Davis and forward Kamani Johnson. Now a junior in his third season with the program, Davis knows Musselman and his expectations better than anyone else, making him the so-called “coach on the floor.”
It’s still early and the team has yet to play someone other than itself, but that leadership is already paying dividends.
“We were doing a defensive drill and Devo was kind of coaching everybody from the side,” Musselman said. “It was just a shell defense. I kind of stopped everything and said, ‘Do you guys understand why Devo is on the sideline barking out instructions?’”
“Everybody had their own thoughts and reasons. I said, ‘No, it’s because he knows what it’s like to get to an Elite Eight. That’s why he’s doing that. And he knows that this is a necessary piece to be a successful team. Some of you other guys don’t know that, that haven’t won at a high level.’”
Updated Preseason Projections
A couple of national media member recently updated their preseason projections and expectations are still pretty high for the Razorbacks.
ESPN’s Jeff Borzello refreshed his “way-too-early” top-25 rankings Tuesday and moved Arkansas up one spot to No. 10, while CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein released his SEC offseason breakdown and has the Razorbacks picked to finish third in the league behind Kentucky and Tennessee.
It seems like most outlets are in agreement that Arkansas will be ranked pretty high nationally and finish near the top of the SEC, but there’s much less agreement on who Musselman will start.
Borzello and Rothstein each included their projected starting five and both have the trio of five-star freshmen — Nick Smith Jr., Anthony Black and Jordan Walsh — included, but they differ on the final two spots.
A pair of transfers, Rickey Council IV from Wichita State and Makhel Mitchell from Rhode Island, are in Borzello’s projected lineup, while Rothstein includes returner Davonte Davis and transfer Jalen Graham from Arizona State.
If that’s not enough to show how much is known right now, a local media member — HawgBeat’s Jackson Collier — has the three freshmen, Mitchell and Missouri transfer Trevon Brazile in his projected lineup. He also didn’t rule out Graham or Rhode Island transfer Makhi Mitchell (Makhel’s twin brother) starting.
Arkansas Basketball’s Season Opener Scheduled for 2022-23
The first time this ultra-talented version of the Razorbacks takes the floor in a real game will be Nov. 7 against North Dakota State. The opener was first reported by WholeHogSports and then confirmed Tuesday morning when the Bison released their non-conference slate.
North Dakota State has won The Summit League Tournament five times since 2009 and most recently played in the NCAA Tournament in 2019. It has won 20-plus games seven times in the past 14 seasons and has finished under .500 just once in the last 11 seasons.
With that news, Arkansas’ 2022-23 non-conference schedule comes more into focus. WholeHogSports has reported the Razorbacks will host San Jose State (Dec. 3) and UNC-Asheville (Dec. 21) in Fayetteville.
They have a neutral-site matchup with Oklahoma at the BOK Center in Tulsa set for Dec. 10 and they’ll travel to Baylor on Jan. 28 for the Big 12/SEC Challenge, as well.
Arkansas is also part of the 2022 Maui Invitational. Matchups haven’t been announced, but the event includes Arizona, Cincinnati, Creighton, Louisville, Ohio State, San Diego State and Texas Tech, and the Razorbacks will play three games from Nov. 21-23.
Layden Blocker Recognized for EYBL Performance
There is a clear path for Arkansas to pull off a rare “triple double” by landing three five-star recruits in back-to-back classes, but for now, the Razorbacks have only one commitment for 2023 and he’s currently a four-star.
However, Layden Blocker put on a show the last couple of months with Brad Beal Elite in the Nike EYBL and is likely knocking on the door of being bumped up to five-star status. The Little Rock native capped the summer with a strong showing at Peach Jam last week, averaging 14.0 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists to earn second-team All-Circuit honors.
Blocker also earned first-team honors at the sessions in Orlando and Louisville and third-team honors at the Kansas City session, plus got honorable mention recognition in Indianapolis. Playing against top competition, he averaged 16.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.4 steals while shooting 47.3% from the floor, 34% from beyond the arc and 75.7% from the free throw line this summer.
Watch Eric Musselman’s full press conference:
Watch the full interview with Nick Smith Jr., Anthony Black and Trevon Brazile:
More coverage of Arkansas basketball from BoAS…