Understanding the Rotation Ripple Effects of Trevon Brazile’s Season-Ending Injury

Trevon Brazile, Jalen Graham, Arkansas basketball
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics

FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas basketball team will be without Trevon Brazile the rest of the season after he tore his ACL on Tuesday, the UA announced Wednesday afternoon.

The sophomore forward got hurt on a drive to the basket with 7:30 remaining in the first half against UNC Greensboro. He fell to the ground and immediately grabbed his knee. Trainers had to help him to the locker room and he watched the second half from the end of the bench in sweats.

Head coach Eric Musselman declined to give an update on Brazile after the game, saying he wouldn’t know anything until he had an MRI. That apparently happened Wednesday and revealed he had a torn ACL. According to the press release, Brazile will have surgery later this month.

In an interview with local reporters Thursday afternoon, Musselman said Brazile and his father, Phil, met with the him and the trainer earlier that day to discuss potential timelines. The exact date of his surgery will be determined after meeting with the surgeon Friday.

“We want him to be around the team as much as he possibly can be,” Musselman said. “They need the swelling to go down and strengthen the quad a little bit, get range of motion, and then at that point, after that, is when the surgery will happen. I’m more concerned with him being in the right mental frame and being okay as much as a player can be (after an injury). That’s the biggest concern.

“Then from a basketball standpoint, when we built the roster, he was a big part of how we wanted to play with his versatility. It’s obviously a huge blow to us, but these things happen in athletics. We’ve got to figure out how we move forward.”

Through the first eight games of the season, Brazile was the team’s leader in rebounds (6.5 rpg) and blocked shots (9). He was also the team’s third-leading scorer (13.3 ppg) while taking on the sixth-man role as the first guy off the bench.

“Any time you lose a good player like that, it sucks and it hurts, because that’s like our brother,” teammate Anthony Black said. “Some of us were pretty emotional when we figured out he was hurt. But we still entrust in our teammates that it’s next man up. I think we can still do what we’re trying to do.”

Arkansas Basketball Frontcourt Without Brazile

It’s a disappointing end to what was shaping up to be a breakout season for Trevon Brazile and now Arkansas must figure out how to adjust without him moving forward.

Unlike last season, when the Razorbacks had only one dependable player taller than 6-foot-7 in Jaylin Williams, they are much deeper in the frontcourt this season.

The Missouri transfer is one of four Arkansas basketball scholarship players who stands at least 6-foot-9, with the others being Jalen Graham (6-9), Makhi Mitchell (6-9) and Makhel Mitchell (6-10). That doesn’t even include Kamani Johnson, a 6-foot-7 forward who has taken on a larger role than expected this season.

Exactly which — and how many — of those players, and others on the roster, end up getting an increased role because of the injury remains to be seen and might not be determined until much later in the season. Musselman pointed to the fact that Trey Wade barely played and Stanley Umude came off the bench in last year’s Oklahoma game and ended up in the starting lineup by the end of the year.

“Who we are Saturday, it’s a new ballclub,” Musselman said. “(Brazile) was a leader for us way back when we went and played the four games overseas. He’s been a go-to player and a guy that we’ve relied on offensively, defensively, blocking shots, versatility, so there’s going to be an adjustment, there’s no about it. Other guys are going to get an opportunity. I don’t think there’s one particular player. I think there’s 25 or 26 minutes that are now available that probably were not available up until that injury.”

Each of the aforementioned bigs has had his moments, but Brazile has easily been the most consistent of the group, as evidenced by his 27.0 minutes per game. His combination of size, length (7-foot-2.5 wingspan) and athleticism (42.5-inch vertical) will be impossible to replace, especially with only one player.

Makhi Mitchell continues to improve, but he’s already starting at the 5. Brazile is more of a stretch 4 and has typically subbed in for Jordan Walsh. He’s actually played more minutes than Walsh, so maybe Walsh could see his minutes increase in a “smaller” lineup.

The less-heralded of the trio of McDonald’s All-American freshmen, Walsh has flashed at times, but has been relatively quiet in averaging 6.3 points and 2.7 rebounds in 22.0 minutes so far this season.

“He’s had a great attitude,” Musselman said. “He was in the weight room early today lifting weights. He’s been getting shots up on his own. I think just playing with as much confidence as he possibly can. He’s had some (moments)… He played well in Maui. The last two games in Maui, he played a lot of minutes, I think 30-plus minutes against San Diego State and maybe Creighton. So we’re going to need Jordan to play well.”

Another “smaller” option would be Johnson, who has had a larger role than even Musselman could have predicted so far this season — but is still averaging just 12.1 minutes. He could play more in games that the Razorbacks need his toughness and rebounding, just as they did against San Diego State.

Makhel Mitchell hasn’t played near as much as his twin brother, but has been good in spurts and is an option when Arkansas wants to go bigger. He played particularly well in Hawaii, but has gotten only eight total minutes in the three games since returning stateside.

The Jalen Graham Enigma

That said, the player most Arkansas basketball fans will probably point to as someone who could step up in Brazile’s absence is Jalen Graham. The Arizona State transfer has flashed in limited opportunities and Eric Musselman has gone out of his way to praise him, most recently following the San Jose State game. In a season-high 12 minutes, Graham had 11 points and 6 rebounds, plus drew a couple of charges.

However, it’s worth noting that almost all of Graham’s production has come in garbage time. It’s easy to point to his plus-23 in that game, but the Razorbacks already led by 14 and were well on their way to pulling away for a blowout win before he entered the game.

That has been a theme for him so far, as 29 of his 31 points this season have come with the Razorbacks leading by at least 14. Only 31.3 percent of his minutes this season have come with Arkansas trailing or leading by 10 or less. In those 13 minutes and 10 seconds, Graham is minus-5. In fact, more than half of his minutes have come with Arkansas leading by at least 20.

An all-conference performer at Arizona State, there’s no denying Graham’s offensive prowess. Musselman himself has said he’s an excellent interior passer who deploys an incredible soft floater. Where he’s lacking is on defense. There have also been times when he’s lacked hustle, such as the time he got beat down the floor on back-to-back possessions, forcing Musselman to call a rare timeout to get him out of a tight game with South Dakota State.

The two charges he drew against San Jose State were a step in the right direction for the latter issue, but playing time will be tough to come by if he can’t defend up to Musselman’s standards. If he can get that figured out, though, he could be a key piece in Brazile’s absence.

There have been encouraging signs beyond the charges, too, such as Musselman calling last week his best week of preparation since he’s been at Arkansas and pointing out that he was an early arrival to Thursday’s practice, indicating he’s kept a positive attitude about the whole situation.

“He’s got a pretty good 15- to 17-foot face-up game,” Musselman said. “He’s got a good push shot around the rim and a soft touch, much like Antawn Jamison used to do, where he gets it out of his hands very quickly around the rim, and if you look at his rebounds per minute, his rebounds per minute is sky high.

“So he’s rebounded the ball, he’s scored the basketball and defensively, he can get off the ground. I think he can be an even more effective shot blocker than maybe what we’ve seen.”

Decision Looming for Trevon Brazile

Looking beyond this season, it appears Trevon Brazile has a decision to make. The big man could still declare for the NBA Draft and try to start his professional career or he could return to Arkansas as a junior.

He was one of five Razorbacks included in ESPN’s latest mock draft, which had him slotted 50th in the 58-player draft, while NBADraft.net and Bleacher Report already had him in the first round of their mocks. Many experts have pointed to his potential as a reason he could eventually assert himself as a first-round pick.

“Arkansas is very much still a team trying to figure out everyone’s roles, especially with Smith just returning to the line-up, so it will be interesting to see if Brazile can establish any sort of consistency,” 247Sports’ Adam Finkelstein wrote last week. “But, there’s no doubt that he has already taken his stock to new levels with his emerging combination of size, physical gifts, and floor-spacing potential.”

Now the question is whether or not the potential he flashed in the first eight games was enough to guarantee him a spot in the first round of the 2023 NBA Draft, even if the surgery prevents him from participating in the combine — where he otherwise would have been able to ‘wow’ scouts with his unbelievable athleticism.

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.

However, the difference between them and Brazile 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 what they did in college. 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 might still be enough, but he was likely going to need to show consistency throughout the season to solidify his status in the upcoming draft.

“I feel like Trevon could be a first-round pick if he plays hard all the time,” teammate Nick Smith Jr. said after a recent game. “That’s one thing we try to implement everyday is for him just playing hard consistently. Obviously tonight he scored attacking the basket. He’s got a good jump shot. Defensively, I feel like he could be a good piece for us.”

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.

Even though losing him for this season, one that has Arkansas basketball fans thinking of a possible Final Four run, is less than ideal, having him next year — assuming he recovers completely and maintains his explosiveness — would be a major boost for the Razorbacks. They’re already set to bring in five-star big man Baye Fall and five-star point guard Layden Blocker, so that’d give Musselman a really solid core to build around via the transfer portal.

However, those discussions have been put on hold until at least after Brazile gets through his surgery.

“We want him to travel with our team,” Musselman said. “He’s not going to travel to Tulsa, because we’re trying to get the swelling down and a two-hour bus ride at his size, being on a bus… Those are the conversations that we had today…and about maybe surgery happening after the LSU game or right before the LSU game and after Christmas.

“So I think all of those conversations are the appropriate conversations as he tries to get through this injury that suddenly occurred and it’s so fresh in all of our minds — how do we get him where he’s on the road to recovery as quick as possible.”

An Ode to Trevon Brazile Dunks

If this is the last we’ve seen of Trevon Brazile in an Arkansas basketball uniform, at least we got to see him in eight full regular-season games and several scrimmages/exhibitions.

That isn’t exactly a large sample size, but it was enough for him to provide a season’s worth of highlight dunks — including one many are calling the Dunk of the Year in all of college basketball:

And now, for your viewing pleasure, a selection of Trevon Brazile’s other top dunks from his injury-shortened sophomore season…


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