When he first returned to the Arkansas basketball team following his injury, Trevon Brazile might have been totally unrecognizable had it not been for his 6-foot-10 frame.
After tearing his ACL, the sophomore big man chopped off the twists he had sported since arriving in Fayetteville and dyed his hair blonde — something he said he had been planning to do even before the season.
The new look couldn’t hide Brazile. If anything, more eyes were drawn to him at the end of the bench, naturally causing thoughts of “what if” to drift into the minds of fans as the Razorbacks sputtered and failed to live up to lofty preseason expectations.
Speaking to Best of Arkansas Sports between wins over Illinois and Kansas last week in Des Moines, Iowa, though, Brazile maintained the positive outlook he’s seemingly had since rejoining the team. He’s been a staple on the bench, celebrating alongside his teammates after big plays and wins.
“As soon as I was healthy enough to go to the games, I started going to the games so my teammates could see my face, so the fans could see my face,” Brazile said. “It took about two weeks for it to really sink in that I’m going to be out for a while. It’s definitely a process.”
Yes, Arkansas fell to UConn in the Sweet 16 by 23 points thanks to the Huskies’ onslaught of three-pointers and rebounds. In all likelihood even Trevon Brazile’s presence wouldn’t have altered that specific outcome, but it’s also fair to assume that a healthy Brazile this season would have resulted in a higher seed for the Hogs and avoiding UConn at that stage in the tourney. It’s hard not to think about how differently this season would have unfolded had Brazile — and freshman phenom Nick Smith Jr. — been healthy all year.
For a fanbase starved for another Final Four, something the Razorbacks haven’t experienced since winning it all in 1994 and finishing runner-up in 1995, those kinds of thoughts can dampen even the most optimistic of Razorback supporters’ excitement about their most recent run in the NCAA Tournament.
That would seem to be especially true for someone in Brazile’s shoes, but he’s taken it all in stride.
“It’s definitely tough, but you have to look at the bigger picture,” Brazile said. “Right now I’m not able to play, but looking down the line, this could be me next year if I decide to come back or it could be whatever. Really just enjoying it with these guys.”
Update on the Recovery Process
Prior to this season, the longest Trevon Brazile had been out with an injury was three weeks for a sprained ankle when he was still in high school.
Despite being in new territory, it didn’t take him long to dive into the recovery process. Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman went out his way to commend him for how he attacked his rehab when he told reporters of his successful surgery during a Zoom teleconference back on Jan. 2.
“One of the coolest things ever, he lifted weights last night,” Musselman said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever had a player still on crutches right after surgery be, (just) a couple days after, in the weight room. That was really cool to talk with TB and find out he was already back in the weight room.
“He was in yesterday getting rehab with Matt. He was in already this morning getting rehab. I know my wife saw him in the office one day before I was in here and he was in getting rehab. He’s doing a great job and diving into the rehab process.”
Fast forward a few months and things are still tracking well for Brazile. He said he’s been hitting all of his milestones early and even joked with reporters the day before the NCAA Tournament that he felt like he could go out and play right now.
That is, of course, an exaggeration, but Brazile is using this time to build up strength before entering the next phase — running, jumping, agility drills and working out on the court — at the beginning of summer. The target date for him to return to actual play is late August.
In the meantime, he’s carved out a new role for himself on this year’s team as someone who lifts the spirits of his teammates when things have gotten tough.
“There’s always going to be highs and lows in basketball,” Brazile said. “We’ve all been at the lows and we’ve all been with each other for the highs, so just being with these guys throughout it all and keeping everybody together and connected has been my role.”
Trevon Brazile’s Looming NBA Draft Decision
Circling back to his “if I decide to come back” comment above, Trevon Brazile does have a decision to make in the coming months. If he’s leaning one way or the other, though, he’s not letting on at this point.
“I haven’t really put much thought into it,” Brazile said. “Just trying to stay in the moment here. March Madness could be a once-in-a-lifetime thing, so I’m just enjoying this with my teammates and soaking it all in.”
Before going down with the torn ACL, he was in the midst of a breakout season. Not including the UNC Greensboro game, when he got hurt after playing just nine minutes, Brazile was averaging 13.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.1 blocks in about 29 minutes.
With Nick Smith Jr. sidelined with a knee injury for most of those games, Brazile was arguably the Razorbacks’ top 3-point shooter, making 39.3% of his 3.5 attempts per game. He and Ricky Council IV were also in the conversation as the team’s best dunker.
Consistency was still an issue — he had just as many games with 20-plus points (3) as he did with fewer than 10 — but, as 247Sports’ Adam Finkelstein pointed out the week before his injury, Brazile’s “emerging combination of size, physical gifts and floor-spacing potential” had caused his stock to skyrocket.
At the time, Brazile was just starting to creep into the first round of some mock drafts, such as those from NBADraft.net and Bleacher Report, while ESPN slotted him in the second round at 50th overall.
Now that he hasn’t played in several months, Brazile is nowhere to be found in mock drafts. He’s entirely left out of recent two-round projections from ESPN, USA Today and Bleacher Report.
It’s not unheard of for players to get hurt and still get drafted. Kyrie Irving, Michael Porter Jr. and Darius Garland each suffered significant injuries that caused them to miss large portions of their lone college season, but still went on to be lottery picks.
The difference between them and Brazile, though, is that they were already well-known commodities before getting to college. They were five-star recruits who were destined to be first-round picks regardless of how their college careers turned out. Brazile wasn’t heavily recruited out of high school and it wasn’t until his skills were put fully on display with the Razorbacks that he entered the discussion as a potential first-rounder.
The talent was certainly there, and may still be enough, but he was likely going to need to show consistency throughout the season to solidify his status in the upcoming draft. It also wouldn’t hurt if he could show off his athleticism in front of scouts at either the G League Elite Camp or NBA Draft Combine, which are in mid-May, but that’s when he’ll be just beginning to run and do on-court workouts.
Assuming he maintains his late-August target for return to play, he’d be able to go through preseason practices and have more than two months to work his way back before the Arkansas basketball season starts. That wouldn’t be the case for the NBA, as he would not yet be fully cleared in time for the NBA Summer League in July.
If it looks like he’ll slip into the second round, Brazile is a rare example of a player who could actually benefit and improve his draft stock by returning to school for an extra year — which seems to be the more likely option given the timeline he laid out in Des Moines.
However, it also wouldn’t be surprising if he at least tests the waters by declaring for the NBA Draft by the April 23 deadline. He would then have until May 31 to withdraw his name and maintain his collegiate eligibility.
Trevon Brazile isn’t the only Arkansas basketball player facing an NBA Draft decision. Here’s a closer look at Jordan Walsh and his recent surge:
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