It’s been more than three decades since they last shared a conference, but if Ron Holland’s decision is any indication, the rivalry between Arkansas and Texas will pick up right where it left off when the Longhorns join the SEC.
The five-star power forward and top-10 prospect from Duncanville, Texas, made a surprise announcement Saturday morning by committing to Texas over Arkansas and several other big-time programs.
While he technically also had UCLA in his top three, Holland was believed to be down to the Longhorns and Razorbacks, with the latter seemingly leading the race in the months leading up to his commitment.
Things were trending positively for Arkansas following his unofficial visit to Fayetteville for the team’s annual Red-White Game, but something changed and he ultimately chose to stay in-state and commit to Texas.
Some may point to Saturday’s exhibition game, a 90-60 shellacking of the Razorbacks, as the turning point for the Longhorns since Holland was in attendance at Austin’s new Moody Center. However, much like how last year’s Sweet 16 win over Gonzaga probably didn’t tip things in favor of Arkansas for Anthony Black, it probably had little impact on Holland’s decision.
Perhaps the appeal of playing for his home state was too much to turn down or he simply liked Chris Beard a little bit more than Eric Musselman. Or maybe there was an NIL aspect of the decision. There will undoubtedly be plenty of speculation on social media and message boards. Besides wanting to be well prepared for an NBA career, exactly what motivates specific teenagers — especially those as talented as Holland — is likely to remain a mystery.
Texas Basketball Fires Back
What seems to be more certain is the fact that the Eric Musselman-Chris Beard rivalry is developing nicely ahead of Texas impending move to the SEC.
Beard may have won the battle for Ron Holland, but during the last recruiting cycle, it was Musselman who came out on top for the services of Jordan Walsh, another five-star prospect originally from Texas.
Walsh was one of two Texas natives to sign with the Razorbacks in the 2022 class, with the aforementioned Anthony Black — who actually played with Holland at Duncanville — being the other.
With plenty of in-state talent coming through the ranks, the Natural State will continue to be the most important recruiting ground for Arkansas. However, Musselman has raised the national perception of the school and the Razorbacks are recruiting from coast-to-coast. That said, the Lone Star State is still a critical area because of its size and proximity — much like it is for the football and baseball programs.
If he has the same success he enjoyed while coaching the Little Rock Trojans and Texas Tech Red Raiders, though, Beard could make it tough on the Razorbacks to come into the state and land the top players.
On the court, Musselman and Beard have already squared off in a pair of tightly contested games that actually counted. A few years ago, Beard’s Texas Tech won a regular-season matchup with Musselman’s Nevada team in overtime. Musselman got his revenge at Arkansas, leading the Razorbacks to a dramatic win in the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
The 30-point blowout in Saturday’s exhibition was an obvious exception, but the two are widely considered to be among the best coaches in the country and have great respect for each other. It should be an entertaining series once they’re in the same conference and playing on a regular basis.
What’s Next for Arkansas Basketball Recruiting
Now that Ron Holland is off the board, the focus of the Arkansas basketball recruiting efforts shifts to big men Baye Fall and Assane Diop.
Originally from Senegal, the cousins play at Accelerated Prep in Colorado and are set to make their announcements at a ceremony on Nov. 15. They’ll also sign their NLIs at that time, as the early signing period is Nov. 9-16.
Fall is a five-star center who stands 6-foot-11 and is ranked as high as No. 9 nationally by On3, while Diop is a four-star power forward/center who’s 6-foot-10 and ranked as high as No. 56 by ESPN.
They have both included Arkansas and Seton Hall among their top choices, while Fall is also considering Auburn and Rutgers, and Diop is considering Colorado. The Razorbacks are believed to be the favorites to land both players.
That would give Arkansas a three-man class for 2023, as they’d join five-star point guard Layden Blocker, who committed over the summer and is expected to sign during the early signing period.
With Holland choosing Texas, the Razorbacks will narrowly miss out on becoming just the third school during the recruiting rankings era — Kentucky and Duke being the others — to sign a trio of five-star recruits in back-to-back years. Instead, they might have to “settle” for a pair of five-stars and a four-star.
It’s worth noting that Arkansas extended a late offer to four-star power forward JJ Taylor last week, so it might still make a run at adding to its 2023 recruiting class.
More than likely, though, the Razorbacks will wait to see how this season plays out and look to the portal to fill out their roster for 2023-24. Their only player who will exhaust his eligibility this season is Kamani Johnson, but several players could leave for the NBA Draft — most notably Nick Smith Jr. — or enter the transfer portal, similar to what happened last offseason.
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