Unpacking the Win-Win in Trevon Brazile’s Return to Arkansas

Trevon Brazile, Arkansas basketball, NBA Draft
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics

FAYETTEVILLE — After missing most of this season with an injury, Trevon Brazile announced Thursday that he will return to the Arkansas basketball program next year rather than enter the NBA Draft.

The athletic big man shared the news with a graphic on Twitter that simply read, “I’m back.” He had been considered a possible early entrant for this summer’s draft.

It is the second major development regarding the 2023-24 roster in the span of about six hours, as freshman Nick Smith Jr. announced earlier in the day that he was declaring for the NBA Draft and forgoing his remaining eligibility.

Both players were at the center of one of the biggest “What If” seasons in Arkansas history, regardless of sport. Smith missed more than half of the season with a knee injury and never quite meshed with the team, while Brazile tore his ACL in the Razorbacks’ eighth game.

Without two of its most important players, Arkansas sputtered throughout the regular season, finishing tied for ninth in the SEC and earning an 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Once a preseason top-10 team with legitimate Final Four aspirations, the Razorbacks needed a memorable upset of Kansas just to reach the Sweet 16, where their season ended in blowout fashion at the hands of UConn.

As a projected lottery pick, Smith’s career ended with that loss, but Brazile will have a chance to expand his legacy next season.

Making Sense of Trevon Brazile’s Decision

After transferring in from Missouri, Trevon Brazile was in the midst of a breakout season before getting hurt.

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, he was arguably the Razorbacks’ top 3-point shooter. Despite being an athletic 6-foot-10 big man, Brazile also knocked down 39.3% of his 3.5 attempts per game — while also throwing down highlight reel dunks, including what many agree has been the dunk of the year in college basketball.

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.

Had he been able to continue playing, there’s a very good chance Brazile could have played himself into a first-round lock and potential lottery pick. The injury changed everything, though, with pretty much all outlets dropping him from their two-round mocks by the end of the season.

In an exclusive interview with Best of Arkansas Sports in Des Moines, Iowa, Brazile somewhat tipped his hand by revealing that he wouldn’t be cleared to begin running, jumping and doing agility drills until the beginning of summer, with his return to play set for late-August.

That timeline would have made it difficult for Brazile to climb back into the NBA Draft conversation because G League Elite Camp and NBA Draft Combine are scheduled for mid-May, so he wouldn’t really get the chance to impress scouts beyond what he put on film at the start of this season.

Even if he got drafted, making an NBA roster would be made tougher by the fact that the NBA Summer League is in July and he wouldn’t yet be cleared by then. His late-August target for return to play would, however, allow him to get geared up for the college basketball season, as he’ll presumably be able to go through preseason practices.

Returning to school and putting a full season together with play like he flashed early this year would be mutually beneficial for Trevon Brazile and the Arkansas basketball program.

First, it potentially makes him a first-round pick in 2024. That’s significant because such a status comes with a four-year contract with two years fully guaranteed, and even the last pick of the first round was guaranteed about $4.5 million in last year’s draft. Also, Brazile’s return gives the Razorbacks an experienced star player to build around and takes pressure off of the Hogs’ incoming blue-chip recruits to carry the load.

Which Arkansas Basketball Player is Next?

Even with two major dominos falling in one day, there are still a lot of uncertainties surrounding the Arkansas basketball roster, but one thing remains true: More players will be leaving.

In addition to Nick Smith Jr., fellow freshman Anthony Black is widely projected as a lottery pick. In fact, the most recent mock drafts from The Athletic, ESPN, Bleacher Report, NBADraft.net and NBADraftRoom.com all have him going in the top 10.

The only other Arkansas basketball player included in all five of those mock drafts is Ricky Council IV. Most of them project him as a second-round pick in the 39-46 range, but Bleacher Report has Council sneaking into the first round at No. 27 overall.

Jordan Walsh appeared in the second round of the mock drafts by Bleacher Report (No. 46) and NBADraftRoom.com (No. 37), but was completely left out of the two-round mocks by ESPN, The Athletic and NBADraft.net. Throw in his comments immediately following the loss to UConn and there is speculation that he may return for his sophomore year.

Davonte Davis, Makhi and Makhel Mitchell, and Jalen Graham are veterans who could potentially move on to the professional ranks, but none are seen as NBA Draft prospects. They would likely be forced to play in the G League or overseas.

The transfer portal could potentially be in play for all of those guys, as well as lightly used freshmen Joseph Pinion, Barry Dunning Jr. and Derrian Ford.

Check out some highlights from Trevon Brazile’s injury-shortened sophomore season:


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