It seemed like Arkansas fans were headed into a leisurely weekend. A home baseball series against Texas A&M that turned into a sweep appeared to be the headlining event, or maybe fans were planning on kicking back to watch the NBA Playoffs or NFL Draft, where Drew Sanders disappointedly fell to the third round after some first-round buzz.
But for those fans who have followed Eric Musselman’s wild annual effort to reshape the basketball roster, the weekend was turned upside down Friday afternoon when five-star recruit Ron Holland announced he was no longer planning on playing for Texas next year.
Holland is listed at 6-foot-8 and is ranked as the No. 6 overall national recruit on both 247Sports and On3. He looks like the perfect fit to fill the 3/4 spot in the lineup that Jordan Walsh possibly vacated by entering the NBA Draft while maintaining his eligibility.
The reason for the excitement from Arkansas basketball fans is that Musselman and his staff have a long relationship with Holland. He visited Fayetteville on multiple occasions during his recruitment. He was high school teammates with Hog star and expected lottery pick Anthony Black. For a long time, many people thought Holland might commit to the Razorbacks until he eventually committed to the Longhorns. The Hogs were one of his three finalists along with Texas and UCLA.
It may not be connected at all, but a spot on the roster opened up not long before Holland’s decommitment with Derrian Ford’s surprise announcement that he was entering the transfer portal, and Musselman and his staff were already in Texas at the time of Holland’s announcement (for the 3SSB grassroots tournament near College Station). Black wasted no time trying to recruit his hometown teammate on social media:
Different Than Last Year?
If – IF – Ron Holland was to sign with Arkansas, the Razorbacks would once again be bringing in a trio of five-star recruits to go along with this year’s highly ranked transfer haul (which doesn’t seem to be finished). It’s understandable if some fans have PTSD from last season’s emphasis on freshmen.
Despite the historic win over Kansas in the NCAA Tournament and Sweet 16 appearance, last season was anything but smooth. After suffering injuries to Nick Smith Jr. and Trevon Brazile, the Hogs struggled to a losing SEC record and the 10-seed in the SEC Tournament. It was not what anyone expected when the Razorbacks started the year ranked in the top 10.
It was cold water for Hog fans who had long dreamed of pulling in the type of elite recruits that seemed to always go to Duke or Kentucky. We now know that a lofty ranking does not always equate to an equally lofty performance as a true freshman. Whether due to injury or any number of other reasons, even the best freshmen sometimes play like freshmen. The experience and physical development that comes with older players is sometimes enough to neutralize the raw potential that elite freshmen bring to the court.
While all those caveats are fresh in our minds, this is a really exciting time to be an Arkansas basketball fan. Yes, Musselman could be on the cusp of pulling off something of a three-peat by brining in three blue-chip freshmen next year – it appears there will definitely be two of them – but unlike this past season, it doesn’t feel like next year’s team will be as reliant on the collegiate rookies.
What Holland Could Mean to Arkansas Basketball
According to a Monday report, in the early going it’s down to Arkansas and the G-League as the next step for Ron Holland. If he does land in Fayetteville, it feels like returning players and transfers could be the team leaders. This will be Trevon Brazile’s third season in college and he has potential to be one of top players in the nation. Arkansas’ backcourt, which at times was dominated by freshmen this season, looks like it will be led by more experienced transfers next year. Allowing next year’s freshmen the ability to develop without the same program-changing expectations as last year’s group could be best for everyone.
Make no mistake, landing Holland would be huge for Arkansas. He would provide length and scoring at a wing spot that, as it stands now, is a gaping hole in next year’s roster. “Holland’s combination of size, speed, fluidity, body control and open-court athleticism make him a difficult match up for opponents when he attacks the rim, even though he doesn’t have the quickest first step or the most explosive ability to change directions with the ball,” NBA draft analyst Ignacio Rissotto writes. “At the rim, his length and level of touch are incredible, as he’s not just able to finish over defenders with extension, but also to use floaters to convert difficult shots a few feet away from the rim.”
But that’s not all. Holland also has an efficient outside shot, shows good defensive versatility and can create for others. Risotto continues: “Holland knows how to get teammates involved by using his scoring gravity to create open shot opportunities for others, bringing the ball up and making quick decisions in transition and executing simple drive-and-kick reads in the half-court.”
With Arkansas, the recipients of those passes would include five talented transfers who have committed. The four highest-rated of them are between 6-foot-1 and 6-foot-5.
Arkansas would surely love to add more length and versatility to the roster, especially considering how important that proved to be with this year’s team. Commentators regularly pointed out Arkansas’ ability to use its size to see over opponents and disrupt other teams on defense. Without the 6-foot-8 Walsh blanketing Kansas superstar forward Jalen Wilson in the NCAA Tournament, Arkansas likely doesn’t win that game.
Musselman may not be bringing the nation’s top-ranked recruit to The Hill next season, but the hype for next year’s team could prove to be equal to last year, and it could be argued that this new roster should surpass it. The next group of Hogs will be more experienced and could prove to be more skilled. At the very least, on paper it appears they’ll be a better shooting team – including shooting from the free throw line. Musselman has proven to be able to make his teams gel defensively as seasons have progressed, and the chances are strong he’ll have to do it again with a group of new players next year.
If he can pull it off again, it could be yet another deep run in March for the Hogs. Bringing on board a talent like Ron Holland to shore up a position of need would set off a whole round of Final Four buzz. This time around, that would feel a lot more warranted.
John Nabors on Ron Holland
Leave it to the Razorback sportscaster to come up with the down-homiest turn of phrase when it comes to pondering to how good a roster with Holland could be:
“You already have your best player, arguably your best player, coming back next year in Trevon Brazile. You already have pieces in place of true freshman next season – two five stars, one of them McDonald’s All American with Baye Fall, and you have without a doubt one of the top coaching staffs… On top of all that, you add Ron Holland. That would give you three, once again, five stars, two of them being McDonald’s All Americans and two of them being big men down low. It would be really hard not to have way too high of expectations once again. It would be really difficult.”
“There are people out there like Joe Lunardi who have Arkansas right now as a two seed in his early bracketology. We got way too early top 25s, where I think it was what ESPN had them as No. 8. Those are the things that they have. If they were able to add Ron Holland, well butter my butt and call me a biscuit. We’re getting weird.”
Listen to more here:
Ron Holland flashes some serious full-court transition skills and defensive chops here: