Losing Brandon Garrison Doesn’t Change Final Four Prediction for New Hogs

Brandon Garrison, John Calipari, Jonas Aidoo, Arkansas basketball
photo credit: OSU Athletics / Craven Whitlow / Tennessee Athletics

How good is new Arkansas basketball coach John Calipari? A couple of weeks ago, he didn’t have one scholarship player on his roster. As of Tuesday, he’d recruited a nucleus of players that is unlike any Arkansas has had in the newly rejuvenated Eric Musselman recent era or the good ol’ days of Nolan Richardson in the 1990s when Arkansas won a title and played in the title game the next season. 

Yeah, Calipari went from having former Fayetteville walk-on Lawson Blake as the only player on the active roster to adding three five-star incoming freshman, a 7-foot-2 big-bodied sophomore and a 6-foot-11 All-SEC center. On Tuesday morning, another quality big, Brandon Garrison, chose Kentucky but that doesn’t change the fact that Calipari is adding punch to Arkansas’ roster in days in ways that no other coach could do in years.

It’s why billionaire chicken tycoon John Tyson among others is backing up a Brinks truck to Calipari’s house and dumping millions for his salary and an NIL budget. Guess what? It’s already paying off. 

Even though some paranoid Hogs fans thought Calipari was taking too long to revamp the roster, he has been striking gold over much of the last week. 

Three former Kentucky pledges all committed and joined UK transfer big man center, Zvonomir Ivisic, a 7-foot-2, 234-pounder – who committed Monday, April 15. Karter Knox, a 6-foot-5 swing from Overtime Elite Academy in Atlanta, committed a week later. He is a five-start prospect and McDonald’s All-American. Then, New York City point guard Johnuel “Boogie” Flann committed Thursday. He is a five-star and McDonald’s All-American and the latest UK defection was five-star wing Billy Richmond, a Camden (N.J.) High School product.  

Jonas Aidoo Arrives to Arkansas

All three off those prep players were predicted to make an impact at Kentucky. They all thought enough of Calipari to follow him. And even though Ivisic played sparingly last season after becoming eligible late, big things were expected of him with the Wildcats this upcoming season. Jonas Aidoo, meanwhile, consistently delivered big things in averaging 11.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks on a 27-win Vols team that made the Elite Eight.

All five of these players would be welcome by most any program in the country and Calipari got them all to follow him to a program that wasn’t close to making the NCAA Tournament last year – the ‘Calipari Effect.’

The reaction from fans and some media members including John Nabors’ crew at Natty State Sports has been priceless. Last week, Nabors and his crew were live at Little Rock Twin Peaks ahead of the Hogs baseball game at Dickey Stephens Park. They were downright giddy discussing the players who had committed and the prospects of the others who were about to.

It was almost like they thought they were dreaming that a cluster of players of that caliber were on their way to The Hill. A similar sentiment has consistently emanated from social media and message boards.  

As over the moon as Arkansas basketball fans have been, it could get better yet. Johnell Davis, considered the top player left in the transfer portal, could be the next Hog to commit.

What John Calipari Will Change about Arkansas Basketball

As soon as Calipari was hired I made a few predictions, and I’ve already been right on a few. One, the longtime coach was going to land at least three five-star players per class. Check. He was going to be more active in the transfer portal. Check. Getting Aidoo as his first non-UK transfer, and getting the likes of Johnell Davis would only hammer home his embrace of a new era.

Calipari knows after two early exits from the NCAA Tournament, his roster needs to add more age and experience as other programs choose to stock up on the portal instead of invest in one-and-done players as he has counted on for several years. I knew Calipari would change his philosophy at Arkansas. I am pretty sure he was on his way to doing so at UK, too, but the clean break made for an easy transition to tweak his philosophies and culture.

Mark my words: the Calipari-led Hogs, unlike UK, will be more disciplined and play better defense with more role players involved. Some of the prospects are being recruited are not big names or five-star players but quality college basketball players. That can lend some leadership and promote cohesion.

A Prediction for 2025 and Beyond

To go along with that, Calipari’s Arkansas basketball team will execute their Xs and Os more consistently and be more disciplined than what was seen from the Razorbacks during conference play in the past two seasons. Perhaps that his where newly hired assistant Kenny Payne comes in. Someone on staff is going to have to put more time in the weeds ensuring that defensive lapses that were recurring the past few years don’t continue as well as the offense is crisper and productive.

Before Aidoo’s commitment, I predicted a Sweet 16 next season and I think going beyond that is possible if Calipari strikes the right mix of experience and youth, as getting the talent will be no issue. Overall, in the next five years, I predict two Final Fours and a national championship. (A brief caveat: I know Calipari is a dominant recruiter, but collecting an entire roster in April and May, even if it’s talented, isn’t usually conducive for a real deep run in next year’s March Madness.)

Still, nearly complete overhauls are becoming more common, so Arkansas could break new ground here. Regardless, even making “just” a Sweet 16 in 2025 would be quite the achievement and welcomed by fans.

What it would also do is set up a big run for John Calipari’s Year 2. And it all starts now. Calipari is laying a foundation that it would take most coaches two or three years to lay when starting from scratch. Buckle up Hogs fans – this is going to be the ride you’ve been seeking for three decades now.

What is about to happen is unprecedented and will make the past five years seem pedestrian. 


Arkansas got itself a character in Jonas Aidoo. He talks about why he refers to the stuffed giraffes he likes to carry around as his “sons” at the :40 mark below:

More on the prospect of Brandon Garrison coming to Arkansas:

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More on Jonas Aidoo and Arkansas basketball from BoAS:

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