It’s No Sour Grapes to Consider the Cost If Grant Nelson Had Come to Arkansas

Grant Nelson

The good news for Arkansas basketball so far this week? The Hogs didn’t need Grant Nelson, anyway.

Sure, landing the 6-foot-10, multi-talented forward from North Dakota State out of the transfer portal would have been nice. He was the best player in the portal, after all, and may have been one of the top five in the country who entered it this offseason, period. Instead, per reports, Nelson is off to play at Alabama (he hasn’t yet confirmed himself). But it’s not as though Arkansas is lacking talent, exactly.

Coach Eric Musselman had already picked up five transfers in the spring to help bolster his roster. The Razorbacks lost guards Anthony Black and Nick Smith – both all but guaranteed to go to the NBA as first-round picks later this summer – and wings Jordan Walsh and Ricky Council, two players who are likely to be taken in the second round. Musselman filled those spots with guards El Ellis from Louisville and Keyon Menifield from Washington in the backcourt and wings Jeremiah Davenport from Cincinnati, Tramon Mark from Houston and Khalif Battle from Temple. 

Arkansas Basketball Still Stacked

Arkansas will also get back forward Trevon Brazile, who was one of the Hogs’ most dynamic players before being lost for the season in December because of a knee injury. Starting center Makhi Mitchell will also be back as a pure post and Mr. Arkansas Devo Davis will return to the backcourt for his leadership and, apparently, his shooting. 

Frankly, Arkansas’ is a good problem to have. Kudos belong to guard Joseph Pinion, a Morrilton native who chose to stay instead of enter the transfer portal, especially as he will almost certainly be the last scholarship player off the bench in 2023-24, what with freshmen Layden Blocker and Baye Fall also joining the fold. The insertion of Nelson would have delivered aforementioned talent and perhaps impressive numbers (he averaged almost 20 points and 10 rebounds per game last year with the Bison), but at what cost? 

The Razorbacks already have a glut of good-to-great players vying for a limited number of minutes, which is a home run situation for those who want to learn to how to find free MLB picks. Jalen Graham, who reportedly has been showing out in the limited practice time so far this summer, hadn’t even been brought up until just now.

Where Grant Nelson Could Have Helped

One area that could use some help, though, is bruising. Mitchell can bring it at 6-foot-9 and 230 pounds. He rarely leaves the paint. But last year he had twin brother Makhel and Kamani Johnson available in reserve, both of whom were about equal in weight and nearly in height, too. Now Arkansas doesn’t have such a player.

Graham is 6-foot-9, but he’s a skinny 225 pounds and Musselman didn’t play him regularly because of Graham’s lack of physicality, especially with rebounding and defense. Moving Brazile exclusively to the inside limits some of his skill-set, too. 

Normally, it won’t be much of a problem. The game is so perimeter-orientated nowadays that teams really only need one center/power forward at a time, not two. The teams that have two on the court simultaneously, though, gave Arkansas problems last year. Texas A&M and Connecticut, especially, dominated the Razorbacks on the interior and proved to be two of the best teams Arkansas played. In case you forgot, UConn won the national title just several days after making the Hogs look like a middle-school team in the Sweet 16.

Nelson would have provided that toughness along with his scoring ability. Instead, either Mitchell or Brazile will have to face him as opposition. 

It just seemed like, in the end, the necessary chemistry between Nelson and the Arkansas basketball staff wasn’t there. According to the source of Pig Trail Nation’s Kevin McPherson, the goodbye at the airport last Friday between Nelson and the staff was “painfully awkward.”

“Players, coaches, and coaches’ family members were not ‘feeling it’ with GN,” McPherson wrote. {Hog coaches began pivoting to other options Friday night even though they had been told to expect to hear something from GN’s camp sometime on Sunday, which again never happened.”

Grant Nelson and Alabama Basketball

With Alabama, Nelson will no doubt have the opportunity to duplicate his NDSU numbers at Alabama, at least, more than he would at Arkansas, where the Hogs aren’t a one-man-dominant team. The good news for Arkansas is that Nelson is the only such player the Crimson Tide will have after forwards Brandon Miller, Noah Clowney and center Charles Bediako entered the draft. The Aggies, though, will return Julius Marble and Harry Coleman III, two players who dominated Arkansas in both games last year.

Let’s take a second to look at Arkansas’ depth chart. At least, the way it looks from here:

Centers: Makhi Mitchell, Baye Fall

Forwards: Trevon Brazile, Jalen Graham, Lawson Blake

Wings: Tremon Mark, Khalif Battle, Jeremiah Davenport, Joseph Pinion

Guards: Devo Davis, El Ellis, Keyon Menifield, Layden Blocker, Cade Arbogast

That, folks, is a dynamite basketball team on paper. Granted, it’s a better one with Nelson. Either way, Arkansas is a lock in all the too-early Top 25s this offseason. And because of the way that it’s built, Mitchell may not even be a starter once he recovers from whatever issue recently put his left foot into a walking boot, according to Pig Trail Nation’s Kevin McPherson.

If Musselman goes the route of the “five best players on the floor” the way his football coaching brethren do with their offensive lines, then the starting lineup would be Brazile, Mark, Battle, Davis and either Ellis or Menifield. Mitchell would likely come in when needed to bang bodies. And one can presume there’s a good chance a big man transfer will end up with the roster spot Nelson would have filled.

But it’s June. Conjecture and all that. The reality is that Musselman will need until at least January to have some semblance of legitimate chemistry with his team. And that’s no knock against the guys on the roster. It’s just the reality that Musselman himself has stated each of the last three years as the Razorbacks have been dominated so much by newcomers from the portal.

Either way, when the basketball schedule is released, it would be wise to circle the date(s) featuring the Crimson Tide. Because by then, every side will know what it has and what it doesn’t.


Hear more about Mitchell’s apparent injury at 6:40 below:

More on Arkansas basketball from BoAS here:

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