As 6 Hogs Ponder Next Step for 2024-25, One Says He’s Ready to Be Bit More Self-Centered

Eric Musselman
Craven Whitlow

The hope for the Arkansas basketball program going into the 2023-24 season was that five returners from the previous year would help form a stable core that would complement the newcomers’ expected contributions. 

It didn’t turn out that way, however. Of those returners, only Jalen Graham and Makhi Mitchell improved in Year 2 with the Hogs, and Mitchell’s surge didn’t start until a strong showing against Kentucky on January 27. Sophomore Joseph Pinion’s three-point shooting, meanwhile, dropped from 38.2% as a freshman to 27.8% as a sophomore while senior Devo Davis and junior Trevon Brazile often played like shells of their former selves. 

Now, in the wake of Thursday’s season-ending loss to South Carolina, it’s time to turn the page.

Mitchell and Graham, along with Jeremiah Davenport, El Ellis, Chandler Lawson and Denijay Harris, are out of eligibility. On Friday, Nick Wenger reported Pinion will enter the transfer portal. The post on “X” did indicate that based on a small sample size, Pinion should shoot much more accurately with more time to warm up given in games he played seven minutes or more, he shot 55% from the field, 53% from three and 94% from the free throw line.

Not long afterward, it was reported Keyon Menifield is also hopping into the transfer portal, joining Pinion and lightly-used Denijay Harris. Menifield and Harris stayed on the Hill for only one year.

Who of the remaining rotation players will return to the 2024-25 Arkansas basketball roster? That has a lot to do with the kinds of players Eric Musselman wants to bring in from the transfer portal alongside a couple of promising freshmen, of course, but there will be plenty of time to unpack all that later.

At the moment, let’s look at what each Razorback eligible to return may be mulling in making his decision…

One Year Left

G Khalif Battle

Why He Could Return: As good as he’s been down the stretch, there was a large chunk of the season when Khalif Battle was either ineffective or hardly playing. That has likely played a role in him being nowhere to be found on NBA Draft prospect lists. Something that’s been overshadowed by his scoring lately is the fact that he’s also significantly improved as a defender and is doing other things well, like rebounding and passing. 

Over the last few weeks of the regular season, it seemed like things finally clicked for Battle and he was comfortable in Musselman’s system. Heading into Arkansas vs Vanderbilt, he’d averaged 33 points a game over a period of five games. If the 23-year-old returns and puts together a full season of what he showed late, he could improve his professional opportunities. Plus, another year of collecting NIL money while being the Big Man on Campus may seem more enticing than playing in a foreign country where they may or may not speak English.

Why He Could Leave: At the same time, would another year of college basketball actually improve his draft stock? He’d be a sixth-year senior, so age isn’t exactly on his side. If Battle thinks his best route is playing overseas and then getting an opportunity stateside — a la Patrick Beverley — he may opt to go ahead and begin that process next season. It’s also worth noting that he’s gone out of his way to dispute the speculation he’s returning.

After the South Carolina loss on Thursday, he was in no way feeling discussing the matter: “Right now, my mind is getting ready for next year. I don’t know. That’s it.”

G Devo Davis

Why He Could Return: Love him or hate him, Devo Davis loves Arkansas and has had a positive impact on the program as a critical part of two Elite Eight and one Sweet 16 team. Like Battle, he’s not an NBA Draft prospect. Because of his notoriety within the state, Davis’ best NIL opportunities are likely with the Razorbacks. He may also want to come back so he doesn’t end his career on a bad note, both individually and from a team perspective.

Why He Could Leave: Davis has stepped away from the team for undisclosed reasons each of the last two seasons. It’s unknown exactly what he’s dealing with, but if it caused him to miss games, then perhaps it’d be enough for him to not return for his super senior season. Also, four years is a long time and he may be ready to be done with college and begin his professional career.

He did participate in Senior Night festivities at Bud Walton Arena against LSU nine days ago, and after the South Carolina loss he didn’t sound like he would return. 

He emphasized looking at things going forward “within the business aspect and things like that” to Natty State Sports’ Scottie Bordelon. “I look at it as…for myself a little bit more, you know what I mean? That’s what I see now within people around me.”

He added: “Of course being there for the team and things like that, but also taking care of myself as well, because I wasn’t doing that and so it made it difficult on me, and not everybody cares.”

Two Years Left

F Trevon Brazile

Stats:Why He Could Return: It would be an understatement to say this has been a disappointing season for Trevon Brazile. A preseason All-SEC selection, he missed time with knee soreness and also didn’t take the step forward that many expected him to make. Once viewed as a potential lottery pick, that almost certainly won’t happen now. Perhaps another year removed from his knee injury could help Brazile put together the kind of season that does vault him into the top half of the NBA Draft.

Why He Could Leave: Even with the tough season and health concerns, Brazile is still viewed as a legitimate NBA Draft prospect. It’s a league that drafts on potential, so his size, athleticism and shooting ability could be enough to still warrant a team using a pick on him. As we’ve seen with guys like Daniel Gafford, Isaiah Joe and Jaylin Williams, you don’t have to be a first-rounder to develop a role in the NBA. On the flip side, if he returned to school and either didn’t improve or regressed, Brazile’s draft stock would take another hit.

G Tramon Mark

Why He Could Return: Tramon Mark was the Razorbacks’ most consistent player this season and was arguably snubbed from an inclusion on the All-SEC second team. He is a Musselman player — someone who can defend and score in multiple ways, including by getting to the free throw line. The NBA isn’t knocking down his door, either, so another year under Musselman would make sense.

Why He Could Leave: Again, would another year of college basketball really improve Mark’s stock at the next level? If he doesn’t want to have to deal with taking classes, he could choose to begin his professional career and try to work his way into the NBA through the G-League or from overseas.

G Keyon Menifield Jr.

Why He Could Have Returned: There is no denying that Keyon Menifield Jr. is an electric player who could have helped the Razorbacks in the future. He showed that with a 32-point effort against UNC Wilmington in just his second game back on the active roster, but by the time the dust settled he averaged about 8 points per game, two less than was he averaged as a freshman at Washington. Getting a full year to play after sitting out the first half of this season will also be beneficial for Menifield no matter when he lands next because he’s still young.

Likely Why He Left: Despite apparently being healthy, Menifield did not come off the bench the last few games of the regular season. He’d been out of the main rotation longer than that, with his minutes dwindling down the stretch. Finally, he didn’t even make the trip to Nashville, staying in Arkansas because of academic issues. Right there, the writing seemed like it was on the wall.

G Joseph Pinion

Why He Could Have Returned: If there’s one thing we know about Joseph Pinion, it’s that he’s a sharpshooter. Those have been hard to come by under Eric Musselman. He also made strides in other areas of his game, like defense, so he could have eventually developed into a role player for the Razorbacks. As a native of Morrilton who grew up with much Arkansas pride, it will be interesting to see if he ends up at a smaller school in state like Arkansas-Little Rock or Arkansas State.

Likely Why He Left: In two years with Arkansas basketball, Pinion has played a total of 253 minutes and his playing time has been very sporadic. Even with a love for the Razorbacks, no one is blaming Pinion for choosing to go somewhere he could play more. Desi Sills, for instance, bled Razorback red but eventually just realized he wasn’t going to get the role he wanted under Musselman.

It’s also worth asking if Musselman suggested the transfer portal was best if he didn’t believe Pinion is capable of developing into regular contributor in this system. Musselman has been known to push players out, even if they originally intended to return, in order to make room for other transfer portal additions.

Three Years Left

G Layden Blocker

Why He Could Return: Even though his minutes were wildly inconsistent this season, you always knew what you were going to get from Layden Blocker. An in-state kid who loves the Razorbacks, he played with great energy and hustle. Musselman values defense and Blocker does really well on that end of the floor. If he could learn to defend without fouling and improve his ability to finish at the rim, Blocker would be a very solid player. Add an outside shot, too, and he becomes even more legit.

Why He Could Leave: That playing time, man. Blocker’s lack of minutes has been perhaps one of the more baffling things about this year’s team, as he could help with the things Arkansas has sometimes struggled with, like energy and defense. Perhaps he would want to go somewhere he could get that consistent playing time.

F Baye Fall

Why He Could Return: The coaching staff new Baye Fall was a project when they signed him. Listed at 6-foot-11, 200 pounds, the Senegal native really needs to add strength to be effective in Arkansas’ back court and that probably wasn’t a surprise when he stepped on campus. If he can bulk up, Fall could be a good player because he flashed his athleticism and potential even in limited opportunities.

Why He Could Leave: Players want to play and, entering the SEC Tournament, Fall had played only 45 total minutes this season. Three of four freshmen who played less than 100 minutes under Musselman transferred following their one season in Fayetteville. The one who stayed, KK Robinson, transferred the next offseason. Ultimately, it could depend on not only his desire to return, but also the coaching staff’s desire to bring him back.

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Evin Demirel contributed the intro of the above article.

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