Bringing Out Trevon Brazile’s Best in 2024-25 Starts with Erasing Toxicity

Trevon Brazile, Arkansas basketball, transfer portal
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics

It turns out there will be a scholarship holdover from the Eric Musselman era after all, as Arkansas announced Tuesday that Trevon Brazile has left the transfer portal to rejoin the program as part of John Calipari’s first team in Fayetteville.

It feels strange to say that it’s a surprise that the Hogs’ roster will end up having a familiar face on it next season, but a completely clean slate became the expected outcome after Calipari’s quip that “there is no team” at his opening presser.

It also feels weird to call a player returning to his current school a “massive pickup,” but that just about sums up Arkansas basketball and college sports as a whole right now.

The breakdown on Brazile is not a new one, by any means, and it’s one that Arkansas fans are very familiar with already. The 6-foot-10 forward transferred in from Missouri and flashed tremendous potential as a sophomore before an ACL tear abruptly ended his season. Until that point, he was averaging 11.8 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game.

This past season, however, Brazile failed to meet high expectations. His rebounds (5.9 per game) and blocks (1.2 per game) stayed consistent, but his scoring average dropped to an underwhelming 8.6 points per game. Many Arkansas basketball fans became frustrated with Missouri native over the course of last season, and it was widely expected the forward would find a new school after he entered the transfer portal.

Instead, Brazile is back in Fayetteville, which poses an interesting dilemma after the events of last year.

Potentially Awkward Reunion for Brazile and Arkansas Basketball

Brazile was expected to be the top dog on last year’s roster after the skills he flashed in 2022. Instead, his season was a mixed bag, to say the least. His scoring drop-off is apparent on paper, but it was question marks surrounding his work ethic that sparked the most amount of criticism. Many fans noticed lackadaisical effort and waning focus from Brazile, as the talented forward seemed entirely disinterested throughout large portions of games down the stretch. 

Sure, there were definitely positive stretches, such as his 19 points and 11 rebounds in the upset win over Duke. But sandwiched in between those performances were long droughts. During conference play, there was a nine-game stretch where he didn’t reach double-figures in scoring once. There was also a knee issue that kept him out for a month.

Perhaps the most surprising part of Brazile’s return is the nature of how last season went down. It was a rough campaign, both individually and for the team as a whole, and caused some all-around frustrations from coaches, players and fans alike.

The latter group concocted a pretty nasty illicit rumor regarding some supposed locker room relationships going on within the team. Was it true? Almost certainly not. Was it somewhat rooted in homophobia? Probably.

In any case, it caught on and became the talk of the town for a good while, even making it to the national level with the esteemed journalists at Barstool Sports. Brazile himself poked fun at the rumors last season by throwing up a triangle hand symbol on the bench at a game – you can connect the dots there.

With how out of hand things got, it’s definitely interesting to see Brazile back. It would be easy to call last season water under the bridge after a losing record, but the litany of off-court gossip that surrounded Brazile while the wheels were falling off the Muss Bus make it a much more surprising sight to see him donning Razorback red next season.

How Trevon Brazile Will Fit with New Hogs

Calipari said he was only “looking for one more guy” to finish off this year’s roster, and he found it in Brazile. Based on the types of players Coach Cal was looking for, it seems he’s got the right guy.

“The ninth? Depends who it is,” Calipari said. “Is it a shooter? Is it a four man that could shoot? Is it strong, physical? Is it a defensive guy?”

The addition – or re-addition, to be more accurate – of Brazile from the transfer portal presents a seamless fit for a few of those descriptions. A four man who can shoot? Check. A defensive guy? Check. On a lot of fronts, it makes sense.

Arkansas basketball fans know good and well the damage that Brazile can do with how athletic he is at 6-foot-10. His lanky wingspan allows him to erase shots, but his feet are also quick enough to switch onto guards when he’s forced to. He’s a threat in both the pick-and-roll as a lob threat or the pick-and-pop as a spot-up shooter. His dynamic talent will give the Hogs a versatile two-way option in the frontcourt.

Part of the reason why Brazile didn’t light up the score sheet last season was the fact that Arkansas’ offensive system under Eric Musselman didn’t do him any favors. Musselman’s offense had a notorious lack of offensive sets that often reduced to isolation basketball and didn’t free up many open looks.

Putting Brazile into Calipari’s dribble-drive motion offense gives him a lot more chances to get involved as a screener and a floor spacer. Calipari and his chief lieutenant Kenny Payne, who has earned a reputation as a big-man whisperer, have worked wonders with athletic 4/5s (Anthony Davis, anyone?), and the lanky Brazile will surely be a beneficiary of that.

Trevon Brazile will provide a great outlet for the talented guards on the roster, and he won’t clog the lane for his fellow bigs Jonas Aidoo and Zvonimir Ivisic, either. Indeed, his addition means an occasional twin-tower look with either Aidoo or Ivisic is much more probable.

Brazile Embracing the “Role Player” Role

Trevon Brazile’s re-entry into the team will see him return to a similar role to the one in which he excelled as a sophomore. In his first season at Arkansas, he played alongside high-profile stars like Anthony Black, Nick Smith Jr. and Ricky Council IV, which allowed him to excel as an off-ball threat when defenses were preoccupied with the team’s other dangerous weapons.

Last season, however, Brazile was thrust into a much more dominant role. The Hogs still had ball-dominant guards like Tramon Mark and Khalif Battle, but as scorers they weren’t as multi-faceted in their approach  as playmakers like Black. The larger role and lack of surrounding offensive creation were factors in Brazile’s understandable struggles.

Come November, he’ll have talented guards like DJ Wagner, Boogie Fland and Johnell Davis to lean on, as well as the gravity that Aidoo holds in the paint – and that’s not to mention the freakishly lanky duo that could be formed with the 7-foot-2 Ivisic.

It should be an environment that is much more conducive to success for Brazile, especially now that he is rid of the locker-room toxicity from last season – much of which was of no fault of his own.

His arc in college basketball in some ways resembles that of Kenny Payne in coaching. Payne was a wildly successful henchman under Calipari for a decade at Kentucky, but then decided to give it a go as a head coach at Louisville. That turned out to be a disaster. Now, he’s back under Calipari’s wing for another stint as an assistant.

Perhaps Brazile being allowed to just be a role player again will bring the best out of him. You don’t have to be a superstar in college to prove your worth to the NBA – as seen by how he shot up mock draft boards in 2022 before his injury.

All he really needs to do is knock down spot-up threes, catch lobs and block shots defensively, and he will provide just what the Razorbacks need from the power forward spot. There is no more pressure to create his own shot.

Other Hogs’ Experiences After Major Injuries

Brazile is not the only Razorback to struggle in his first year back from a major injury. Fortunately, precedent from the baseball program suggests that a turnaround might be in store for the rising senior.

Former Arkansas pitcher Isaiah Campbell missed his entire sophomore year with an elbow injury. Upon his return in 2018, he was far from elite, posting a 4.26 ERA. Fast forward to the following season, and he transformed into the Hogs’ ace and took them to Omaha with a dominant 2.13 ERA.

Cody Scroggins is another Razorback arm that underwent Tommy John surgery in 2017. In his first season back, he pitched just 15.2 innings and surrendered a 4.60 ERA. In 2019, however, he was a key bullpen piece for the College World Series run, posting a 4.01 ERA on a much heavier diet of 49.1 innings.

An unfortunate story of injury troubles comes from the basketball program with five-star Olu Famutimi, the Canadian phenom who was never quite the same after his ACL tear. Famutimi produced two pedestrian seasons for Arkansas, and never was able to stick in the NBA.

It remains to be seen what end of the spectrum Calipari’s most recent addition will end up on.

Brazile Trying to Seize Second Chance with Calipari

Brazile is certainly taking a risk returning to school. On one hand, he’ll certainly make more in NIL this year than he would have on a two-way contract in the NBA. But on the other hand, another disappointing college season or another major injury would essentially sink his professional hopes.

Arkansas fans would be wise to not hold grudges against Brazile. First off, the struggles of last season don’t fall solely on his shoulders. That was a failure that spans the entire team and coaching staff.

After already recovering from a major ACL surgery, he faced additional complications with his knee throughout the season he had to work through. Surely, that factored into his apparent lack of confidence on the floor. Additionally, there was the wave of vitriol from fans that he had to deal with.

His return to Arkansas presents a conscious decision to flush away the bad memories of last year and accept a smaller role in a really talented team – and that’s a difficult and admirable thing to do.

If Calipari believes in him, then fans should, too.

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Jeff Goodman reacts to Brazile’s return on Field of 68:

Trevon Brazile’s highlight tape, in case you forgot or need reminding:

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More coverage of Razorback basketball from Best of Arkansas Sports:

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