5 “Wish List” Prospects for the Versatile Wing Defender Arkansas Desperately Needs

Toby Okani, Au'Diese Toney, Christian Shumate, Arkansas basketball, transfer portal
photo credit: UIC Athletics / Arkansas Athletics / McNeese State Athletics

Perhaps the most notable gap on the court for Arkansas basketball this season was the presence of a big, versatile wing defender alongside other scoring threats.

The Hogs had plenty of guys who put up notable scoring stats at their previous locations, but they never found their perfect “glue guy” to fill out the roster. Think Jordan Walsh, or Au’Diese Toney or Stanley Umude. Even Jalen Tate and Moses Moody filled this role to an extent, though they both excelled in multiple roles during their time with Arkansas.

Tramon Mark and Jeremiah Davenport were the closest things to this particular archetype the Razorbacks had on the roster this season, but neither fit the mold perfectly.

Mark is a playmaker on the defensive side of the ball, but he wasn’t always the lock-down guy that Arkansas needed on opposing wings. He sometimes gambled for steals or wasn’t locked in at all times in help-side defense. There were at least a couple puzzling matador moments in the SEC Tournament alone. Not to mention he was forced into a point guard role that no one – likely not even Musselman – expected him to fill this season out of necessity for some semblance of offense.

Davenport got closer to filling this role with his 6-foot-7 frame, but he plays much more like a guard than the true combo-forward Arkansas needed. He got hot from the perimeter at times and played with phenomenal energy and effort while he was on the court, but simply didn’t have the size, strength, or defensive prowess to fill this role on the other side of the court.

It’s reasonable to think that this spot was reserved for Jordan Walsh or even Ron Holland, who seemed to be a Hog lock by all accounts until the night before his commitment. When both options fell through late in the offseason, Musselman was left to work with what he had available.

It’ll be interesting to see how he avoids this potential situation this offseason. Below are some older players at smaller universities who would fit the Razorbacks’ need for this type of player. Note that none of them has entered the transfer portal, but we are noting they are the kind of seasoned, skill player that high-major Division I programs may covet.

Wish List of Big, Versatile Wing Defenders

[REMINDER: these players are not in the transfer portal but would be attractive to bigger schools if if they did enter]

Yaxel Lendeborg (6-9, Jr. | UAB)

13.7 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 0.6 SPG, 2.1 BPG, 52% FG, 34% 3P

Lendeborg was crowned Defensive Player of the Year in the American Athletic Conference (AAC) on his way to averaging nearly 14 points per game. He was also named All-AAC First Team and won two Player of the Week awards.

His 6-foot-9 frame and ability to block shots while also knocking down threes on the other side of the ball would be an ideal fit in Musselman’s system. At 230-pounds, he could likely play some small-ball center in certain situations as well.

His larger frame also suggests he’d be more of a four/five hybrid rather than a combo forward playing some minutes at the three like players such as Walsh or Umude did for the Hogs, but Musselman showed his willingness to run two-big lineups this year.

There were several times when some combination of Jalen Graham, Chandler Lawson, and Makhi Mitchell shared the court together. None of them were particularly dangerous from the outside, but Lawson’s jumpshot was respectable enough to at least provide some semblance of spacing when he shared the court with another big.

Lendeborg also isn’t exactly a sniper from the outside, but 34% would be more than enough to consider playing him alongside another more post-oriented big man, opening the opportunity for potentially lethal defensive lineups.

Also, Tom Crean thinks quite highly of him:

Toby Okani (6-7, Sr. | Illinois-Chicago)

11.1 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 2.0 BPG, 39% FG, 32% 3P

Okani has one of the more impressive defensive stat lines on the season with 1.5 SPG and 2.0 BPG – certainly a reason he was named to the Missouri Valley All-Defensive Team. He has improved his scoring every year he’s been in college while maintaining a notable steady steal rate, even through moving from Duquesne in the A-10 to his current school, Illinois-Chicago in the MVC.

Okani has not been an efficient scorer throughout his college career, which can of course raise some red flags if he’s considering a jump to a high major program, especially a program with relatively recent success like Arkansas, but he could still fit the role of being the glue guy that Musselman utilizes to bring his teams together – the type of guy he was missing on this year’s roster.

Christian Shumate (6-6, Jr. | McNeese State)

11.9 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 0.9 SPG, 1.4 BPG, 55% FG

Shumate was a key cog in one of the best overall records in college basketball this year with McNeese State. He was named Defensive Player of the Year and earned both All-Defensive Team and All-Conference First Team honors in the Southland conference.

His double-digit scoring average is a nice bonus, but it’s his consistent defensive prowess that should spark interest should he decide to enter the transfer portal.

It also helps that Shumate was part of a winning team this season in McNeese State. Regardless of their level of competition at times, those players gained an understanding of what it takes to win basketball games – something a few players on the current Razorback basketball team did not seem to possess this year despite having good skill sets on paper.

Musselman tends to lean into correcting issues that might have plagued him the previous season, so don’t be surprised if he hones in on guys coming from winning programs like Shumate.

Oh, and he would be a crowd favorite from day one with explosiveness like this:

Troy Hupstead (6-7, Jr. | Maryland-Eastern Shore)

13.3 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 0.6 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 44% FG, 33% 3P

Hupstead is another conference Defensive Player of the Year, this time in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC). He was also named to the All-Defensive Team and the All-MEAC First Team.

Averaging the same number of blocks and steals while being 6-foot-7 is impressive in itself. Considering he was also named the best defender in the conference should certainly make him an intriguing defensive prospect for a power conference team like Arkansas.

This goes without even mentioning his 33% average from long range. Of course, this isn’t any world-changing percentage, but if Hupstead is able to make defenses respect him as a jump shooter on the perimeter, he’ll be able to spend more time on the court wreaking havoc on the other side of the ball.

Sam Alexis (6-9, So. | Chattanooga)

10.8 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 0.3 SPG, 2.1 BPG, 55% FG

Alexis would probably lean more towards being a forward/center rather than a true forward, but he was named to the All-Defensive Team and All-Conference Third Team in the Southern conference by blocking 2.1 shots per game despite weighing only 190-pounds.

If Alexis could learn to play alongside another big man – or perhaps put on 10-15 pounds of muscle in the off-season – he could become an imposing defender in a Musselman defensive scheme.

It also helps that he’s another player coming from a winning record last season. He’ll be entering his third year of college basketball next season and has had a winning record in each of his first two seasons. Coming from a winning program might not be the most important factor, but it can’t hurt after what Arkansas experienced this year with most of their players coming from non-winning programs.

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