The Arkansas basketball team is coming off of its second straight Elite Eight appearance, but that run did not come without blemish. Several times last season, the Razorbacks were outmatched in the paint when playing big men such as Oscar Tshiebwe of Kentucky, Collin Castleton of Florida, Walker Kessler of Auburn and the duo of Paolo Banchero and Mark Williams of Duke in the season’s last game.
Last year, Jaylin Williams was the only player standing above 6-foot-7 who averaged more than 7.5 minutes per game. Stanley Umude and Trey Wade, both 6-foot-6, started at the other forward positions, with Kamani Johnson (6-foot-7) most often serving as the backup center.
This weakness motivated Arkansas basketball head coach Eric Musselman to focus on size this offseason. Along with the No. 2 high school recruiting class in the country led by a trio of 5-star recruits, Musselman brought in five transfers possessing a level of size and athleticism that the Razorbacks lacked last season. Four of the five transfers stand 6-foot-9 or taller and the fifth is a 6-foot-6 wing with out-of-the-gym bounce.
This new look squad features only two returning players, six freshmen and five transfers – all of whom are capable of contributing on the court. It was never really a question if the trio of high-profile freshmen would contribute at a high level. The mystery was which, if any, of the new transfers would emerge above the others.
Enter Trevon Brazile.
It’s still too early in the season to be crowning champions, but if Brazile’s performance on the European tour was any indication, he’s quickly cementing his place at the top of this newly-constructed rotation – and perhaps the SEC as a whole.
During an 11-day trip overseas, the Arkansas basketball team split most of its time between Spain and Italy, where it played four games against professional teams such as the Bakken Bears, a perennial powerhouse in the Basketligaen, the top tier basketball league in Denmark.
The Razorbacks went 4-0 on this trip, but more importantly, the players and staff experienced real-game scenarios to learn from as they prepare for the actual season.
Brazile opened his European tour with 12 points on an impressive 5-of-5 shooting from the field and 2-of-2 shooting from the charity stripe. Though the competition in Game 1 was lackluster, he immediately showed his potential as an efficient scorer in the paint.
Below is a short highlight clip showing Brazile’s versatile play in the win over Valencia Seleccion.
However, Brazile pulled down only three total rebounds against an undersized opponent despite his 6-foot-10 frame. He followed up this poor rebounding performance by grabbing only one rebound in 22 minutes in the Razorbacks’ second game – though he did score 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
Musselman didn’t mention many of the players by name in his postgame Zoom press conference, but made a point to call out Brazile’s underwhelming effort on the glass.
“We need Brazile to rebound more,” a frustrated Musselman said. “He had one rebound in a game against a team whose tallest player was 6-7.”
The big man responded in a big way, ripping down 7 rebounds in only 15 minutes of action in Game 3, followed by a 9-rebound performance in what could become a signature breakout game. In the latter, Brazile scored 28 points while shooting 87% (13 of 15) and also coming away with four steals and two assists. He showed his outside shooting touch as well, burying one 3-pointer and a long midrange jumper in the process.
Over the course of the entire tour, Brazile shot 85.3% (29 of 34) from the field, including an absurd 28 of 30 (93.3%) from inside the 3-point line, on his way to a team-leading 15.3 points per game.
Naturally, this level of efficiency won’t be sustainable against SEC-caliber big men, but 93% against professional athletes is an eye-popping number. It’s not unrealistic to expect Brazile to be among the league-leaders in field goal percentage this season.
Well-known college basketball analyst Aaron Torres recently recapped the Razorbacks’ international trip and made a bold statement about their newest forward.
“I’m planting my flag,” Torres said on his podcast. “Trevon Brazile will be a first-round draft pick at Arkansas this year (2023).”
Some Background on Brazile
Coming out of Parkview High School in Springfield, Mo., Brazile was only a three-star recruit with offers from Cleveland State, Montana State and Missouri. He profiled as a raw talent at roughly 6-foot-8 with unreal athleticism being his main selling point.
Brazile opted to stay close to home and signed with the Tigers. As a freshman last season, he appeared in 25 games and averaged 7.2 points and 5.6 rebounds. His most impressive stat was his 2.1 blocks per game to go along with 61.4% shooting from inside the 3-point line. Those numbers alone don’t tell the whole story, though.
Over his last five games of the season, Brazile averaged 10.4 points and 8.2 rebounds across 27.8 minutes after averaging just 5.7 points and 4.4 rebounds in the 20 previous games. He also shot 43% from long range and 73% from the free throw line in his final five games compared to 31% and 57%, respectively, in his first 20 games.
Clearly, Musselman liked what he saw from Brazile. “I thought, playing against him, that he was a guy, if you look into the future, that had tremendous upside,” Musselman told reports earlier this offseason.
The athletic big man committed to the Razorbacks only four days after their season-ending loss to Duke in NCAA Tournament. Brazile was not some late-summer transfer to fill out the roster; Musselman actively sought him out, making him the first of the five transfers this offseason.
Trevon Brazile Breakdown
Brazile’s biggest asset is his unreal combination of size and athleticism. He stands at roughly 6-foot-10 and has a 7-foot-2 wingspan, giving him all the tools necessary to be an impactful forward both in college and at the next level.
“He’s so long,” said Musselman of his new star forward earlier this offseason. “He can shoot, he can run, he can block shots.”
It’s his leaping ability that really sets him apart, though. Brazile has an easy jumping motion that allows him to leave the floor multiple times in rapid succession, making him dangerous as a shot blocker and offensive rebounder. He also possesses a serviceable amount of lateral quickness and elite recovery and timing to contest shots at the rim should he get beat off the dribble by opposing guards.
He put his head-turning athleticism on full display with this put-back slam.
Brazile combines his athleticism with a soft touch around the rim, allowing him to finish plays in several different ways. He’s shown his ability to dunk over defenders, but he’s also capable of establishing his position in the paint and scoring off of basic post moves, as well as running the floor well to create open opportunities in transition.
Continuing to gain confidence and get comfortable on the perimeter will turn Brazile into a true NBA prospect. He has a smooth shooting motion that should allow him to be a capable 3-point shooter right away for the Razorbacks, though he needs to continue building confidence in taking those shots. In the clip below, Brazile shows off his shooting touch in a catch-and-shoot scenario and in a pump-fake side-step scenario.
His ball handling is not currently at a level where the Razorbacks can use him as a perimeter creator or someone to help them break full-court presses the way Justin Smith and Jaylin Williams were used. Brazile also isn’t on the same level as these two former Hogs from a passing standpoint, but they won’t often need to run their offense through big men this year with the plethora of elite guards they can put on the court.
Improving these parts of his game will not only make him a dangerous weapon for the Razorbacks this season, but it will also allow him to play more power forward and small forward at the next level.
Trevon Brazile Player Comparison
Brazile’s athleticism could allow him to make as many SportsCenter appearances as former Razorbacks Michael Qualls and Daniel Gafford this coming season. Also when factoring in his ability to spend time on the perimeter, Brazile could become more like Adrio Bailey in Daniel Gafford’s body.
In his senior year, Bailey shot 38.5% from long range on low volume (1.2 attempts per game), a mark Brazile could closely compare to this season. However, Brazile stands nearly four inches taller than Bailey, boasting a stature closer to that of Gafford. The 6’11” El Dorado native held a little more muscle on his frame and had a “dunk everything” mentality that Brazile may not yet possess, but the natural athleticism between the two is similar.
Another player that could draw comparisons to Brazile is John Collins of the Atlanta Hawks. During his time at Wake Forest, he was a known commodity thanks to frequent appearances in SportsCenter highlights. Also listed at 6-foot-10 in college, Collins averaged 19.2 points on 62.4% shooting from inside the 3-point arc as a sophomore. He also averaged 3.8 offensive rebounds per game (9.8 total) thanks largely to his elite athleticism.
Brazile may not push 20 points per game this season due to the sheer volume of scorers on the Razorbacks’ roster, but that level of efficiency is certainly attainable for the sophomore forward.
Now, in the NBA, Collins has shown tremendous development in his long-range jump shot, hitting 38% of his 3.1 attempts per game over his last four seasons in Atlanta. Brazile has already shown a willingness to step outside and let it fly, attempting 33 total threes as a freshman. In doing so, he’s already ahead of where Collins was at this age – he shot and missed one 3-pointer in his entire collegiate career. If Brazile can continue to develop his jump shot over this season, he has a chance to follow a similar career path as the former No. 19 overall draft pick.
Role for Arkansas Basketball in 2022-23
On a roster loaded with forwards – 10 out of 13 scholarship players stand 6-foot-6 or taller – Brazile is the closest thing to a guaranteed starter at forward alongside guards Nick Smith Jr. and Anthony Black, both of whom are potential first-round draft picks in the 2023 NBA Draft.
After his dominant performance in Europe, it’s realistic to expect Brazile to be among the top two scorers on the team alongside Smith, who’s currently projected to be a lottery pick. His length and athleticism will also allow him to be among the team leaders in rebounds and blocked shots.
Musselman called out Brazile’s lackluster rebounding effort after the first two games of their European tour, to which the big man responded with 18 rebounds over their last two games.
“He was counting them during the game,” Musselman said after Brazile grabbed seven rebounds in Game 3. “He would come out and ask Coach (Anthony) Ruta how many rebounds he had, which I’m cool with that. If that’s what helps motivate a guy to get them, I’ll hold the doggone board up every time he gets one.”
The Razorbacks’ non-conference schedule is taking shape, though it hasn’t been announced in its entirety yet. We do know the Hogs will play, as usual, several non-power conference teams such as Fordham, UNC-Greensboro and Bradley.
In these early-season games, Brazile is likely to play a lot of center despite not being as strong as other forwards on the roster like Makhel and Makhi Mitchell and Kamani Johnson. Don’t be surprised if Brazile has a few more breakout performances early in the season like his 28-point outing against the Bakken Bears in Italy.
Once the Hogs face SEC-caliber big men, the strength and size of these other forwards will likely become more necessary on the defensive side of the ball, pushing Brazile down to his more natural power forward position. Combining Brazile with one of the Mitchell twins, Johnson or Jalen Graham would create a “twin towers” type of lineup for the Hogs that could become even more dangerous with the addition of Jordan Walsh and Anthony Black to the lineup – creating the possibility for some of Arkansas’ biggest lineups in recent memory.
At that point, it’s likely that Brazile will spend more time on the perimeter on offense, allowing him the opportunity to be a threat shooting 3s and making timely backdoor cuts. He will likely be the primary lob threat for all of the Razorbacks’ ball-handlers next season because of this.
Regardless of where he’s positioned in the lineup, Brazile projects to be a matchup nightmare for opposing forwards all season, both during the non-conference slate and in SEC play.
Check out some of the highlights from Arkansas basketball’s third win in Europe:
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