Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman has once again captivated the nation with his ability to work the transfer portal as well as any coach in the country.
This has been the case essentially since he landed at Arkansas. Not only has he brought in key transfer additions like Jimmy Whitt, Jalen Tate, Justin Smith, JD Notae, Stanley Umude, Ricky Council, Trevon Brazile, the Mitchell twins and many others, he has the Razorbacks mentioned with what feels like every single major transfer portal addition each summer.
This running tally has him publicly contacting at least 96 transfers – and counting – this offseason alone.
Last season, Musselman showed off his ability to pull in major high school recruits as well as college transfers, landing a trio of five-star recruits alongside three additional four-star prospects in the same class.
Unfortunately, a combination of injuries and lack of experience hurt the Hogs in the regular season – though they still ended up in the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive year. These struggles might dissuade Musselman from recruiting so many high school players in the same class again.
So far in 2023, he has slowed down his high school recruiting in terms of sheer numbers, but certainly not in quality of recruits. He holds commitments from a pair of five-star recruits in the upcoming class in Baye Fall (6-foot-10, center) and Layden Blocker (6-foot-2, guard). These two high-profile recruits seemed to be the only true freshmen joining Musselman at Arkansas next season – that is, until Ron Holland (ESPN’s No. 2 prospect in 2023) decommitted from Texas earlier this week.
Holland is likely looking for the best path to raise his stock heading into the 2024 NBA Draft. That leaves the likely frontrunners as Arkansas and the G-League Ignite – both options on Holland’s original list.
Replacing Jordan Walsh
Now that the 6-foot-8 forward is back on the market, you’d be a fool to believe Eric Musselman hasn’t at least kicked the tires on the five-star prospect’s availability, especially considering how guard-heavy his roster is shaping up to be next season.
Even with the latest departure of Arkansas guard Derrian Ford to the transfer portal, the roster still consists of 7-8 players that hold a “guard” designation.
Perhaps the biggest pending decision still listed on the roster, however, is that of Jordan Walsh. He came into the season with hopes of being a first-round lock in the upcoming NBA Draft, but inconsistency on offense and foul trouble slightly limited what he was able to accomplish in a Razorback uniform.
Even still, scouts are well aware of Walsh’s frame, defensive instincts and overall potential. Many mock drafts still have him as a lock to be taken in the second round, while some have him pushing into the low 30s and on the fringe of the first round. If that is truly the feeling among teams drafting in this area, his likelihood of returning to Arkansas is slim-to-none.
Even if his box score didn’t always show his overall value for the Hogs, his size and skillset might be the hardest to replace heading into next season. Musselman has overhauled his backcourt with guards capable of scoring, handling the ball and initiating an offense, but he still lacks a true lockdown defender on the wing like Walsh proved he could be during his NCAA Tournament run.
Recent transfer commit Jeremiah Davenport (6-foot-7) can fill in on the wing as a streaky shooter and depth piece offensively, but he’s not known for his defensive prowess. Ron Holland, on the other hand, would almost certainly fill that void from Day 1 with his length, motor and defensive instincts that already have scouts drooling.
Filling out the Frontcourt
Aside from the notable hole that Jordan Walsh would leave on the wing should he stay in the draft, Arkansas could still use one more big body on the roster, if for no other reason than to add depth and rebounding to a team relatively thin – both physically and in terms of the depth chart – in the frontcourt.
Retaining Makhi Mitchell (probably) despite his brother Makhel entering the transfer portal is an underrated addition to next year’s team. He showed great flashes on both sides of the ball last season and could provide much-needed experience anchoring the defense next season.
After him, however, question marks arise quickly. The return of Trevon Brazile certainly helps in all aspects of the game, but his 6-foot-10 frame is a bit wiry to be a full-time center. In fact, Eric Musselman typically deployed him at the power forward position when he was healthy last season.
Jalen Graham (6-foot-9) could be in line to take a major jump next season, but if he doesn’t, his issues with defending the paint and securing defensive rebounds could again rear their head during his inevitable minutes at the center position, given the roster’s current construction.
That leaves Baye Fall as the only other backup center option. At 6-foot-10, the five-star prospect has a unique combination of quickness and skill for his size, but he does not yet possess the sheer strength or instincts to be a full-time center in the SEC. It’s certainly possible he could put on enough weight to be a major contributor this season, but that’s a big ask for a lanky freshman big man.
Top Transfer Portal Fits for Arkansas Basketball
This list is operating under the assumption that neither Jordan Walsh nor Ron Holland will be on the roster next year. It is also ranked primarily in order of best fit for the current roster, not based on the likelihood of each transfer to actually join the Arkansas basketball team.
1. Grant Nelson | North Dakota State | 6-foot-11 | Forward
Grant Nelson was a late addition to the transfer portal earlier this week after earlier putting his name in the NBA Draft. The 21-year-old forward averaged 17.9 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.7 blocks while shooting 52% from the field last season at North Dakota State. That included going for for 17 points and six rebounds in just 21 minutes against Arkansas in the Hogs’ season opener at Bud Walton Arena.
“I thought Nelson in the second half got going,” Eric Musselman said after that Razorback win. “He’s a really talented offensive player. He’s got an incredibly bright future. And we couldn’t stop him in the second half. We’ve got to do a better job of understanding when we play against a star to try to shrink the floor and dig a little bit better. I thought Nelson was really, really good offensively for them.”
The junior is also a career 31% 3-point shooter for the Bison.
Nelson is currently garnering interest in the mid-to-late second round of the 2023 NBA Draft, though he’s looking to keep his options open should he decide to return to college. Perhaps playing on a bigger stage – like the SEC – will solidify his draft stock for next season.
Nelson slots in as an elite stretch-4 who could potentially play up or down a position depending on roster construction. Despite standing at 6-foot-11, he might actually be more suited to play small forward than center – especially in the NBA. Could he hold his own at the 5 for stretches of small-ball on a college court? Probably, yes. But realistically, he slots in as an elite stretch-4 that could take a team to the next level with his ability to shoot, finish, block shots and put the ball on the floor to make plays for himself.
It appears Trevon Brazile is all aboard the Grant Nelson-to-Hogs train already, according the below screenshot from Instagram:
2. Jaylon Tyson | Texas Tech | 6-foot-7 | Forward
Jaylon Tyson averaged 10.7 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.4 steals while shooting over 40% from long range for Texas Tech last season. This pickup would make more sense if Arkansas were certain that they weren’t going to have either Walsh or Holland on the roster next season, but he could still fit alongside them in most lineups.
Similar to Arkansas commit Jeremiah Davenport, Tyson is listed as a guard despite his 6-foot-7 frame. However, the Hogs deployed Anthony Black and Ricky Council IV at the 4 position at times this past season, showing Musselman’s willingness to play small-ball using bigger guards in his wing positions – as long as they can hold their own defensively.
3. Matthew Cleveland | Florida State | 6-foot-7 | Forward
Similar to Tyson, Matthew Cleveland is listed as a guard despite his 6-foot-7 frame. Even more encouragingly, he averaged 7.4 rebounds last season to go along with 13.8 points and 0.8 blocks and steals. If Musselman is looking to fill the void of length on the wing, Cleveland would make a lot of sense.
The junior wing also shot roughly 35% from long range last season, which is a notable improvement from virtually any option Arkansas had at the forward positions this year outside of Trevon Brazile. This one seems like more of a long shot – especially if one of Walsh or Holland ends up on the team next year – but the fit is certainly there.
4. Hunter Dickinson | Michigan | 7-foot-1 | Center [UPDATE – Dickinson has committed to Kansas]
At this point, it feels unlikely that the Hogs are anywhere close to leading the race for the highly-coveted big man, but considering that virtually no one outside of Hunter Dickinson and his innermost circle seem to know anything about his decision, it’s worth mentioning that Arkansas was at least in the race for a period of time. Dickinson has not publicly announced any intention to visit Arkansas, but it’s hard to count Eric Musselman out of any transfer race – especially one this close-lipped.
At 7-foot-1, Dickinson averaged 18.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks while shooting 42% from long range for Michigan last season. His presence would vault Arkansas upward among the favorites to contend for a national title next year – especially if they do retain Makhi Mitchell as a secondary center. It may not be necessary for the Hogs to add another big man of this caliber, but it doesn’t seem like it would hurt anything given the current roster construction.
5. Warren Washington | Arizona State | 7-foot-0 | Center
Warren Washington is perhaps an under-the-radar name in the transfer portal – especially compared to the other two big men on this list – but he can still be a solid rotation piece on a contending team. Standing 7-foot-0, the former Sun Devil averaged nearly two blocks per game last season to go along with 9.2 points and 6.9 rebounds on 56% shooting from the field.
“Leanly built and agile, the 7-footer moves smoothly all over the floor,” RockMNation’s Matt Harris writes. “He glides running from rim to rim, consistently makes tougher catches on the move, and he’s crafty on the block and in the mid-post.” It also helps that at ease rolling to the rim or the block from dribble handoffs given how often the ball will be in the hands of Battle, Ellis, Menifield and the like.
The Hogs have enough firepower in their backcourt that they don’t necessarily need another star scorer in their frontcourt to be considered title contenders. Washington could come in and excel in his specific role as a rim protector and rebounder – perhaps a taller version of what the Hogs got from the Mitchell twins this season. Rounding out their frontcourt with a true 7-footer would certainly be an exclamation point on another exciting offseason.
2023-24 Arkansas Basketball Roster Outlook
Arkansas currently sits with 11 scholarship players committed to playing next year and two potential returners that still have until May 31 to make their final decision about staying in the NBA Draft or returning to college.
- Trevon Brazile (F/C)
- Jalen Graham (F/C)
- Joseph Pinion (G)
- Makhi Mitchell (F/C) – no official announcement
- Layden Blocker (G)
- Baye Fall (F/C)
- Keyon Menifield (G)
- Tramon Mark (G)*
- Khalif Battle (G)
- Jeremiah Davenport (G/F)
- El Ellis (G)*
Awaiting NBA Draft Decisions
- Devo Davis (G)
- Jordan Walsh (G/F)
*also testing the NBA Draft while going through the transfer process
More coverage of Arkansas basketball and the transfer portal from BoAS…