Don’t expect there to be much putting the cart before the horse this offseason in Razorback basketball circles.
Last year around this time, nearly everybody and their aunt Val were pumped about the fortunes of a 2022-23 Hogs team that on paper was more talented than any Arkansas has had since the mid 1990s. If anything, the team early on looked like it could be even better than expected when Trevon Brazile showed unexpectedly early first-round potential alongside the four Razorbacks who have entered the 2023 NBA Draft.
But Brazile’s season-ending injury, alongside the issues of Nick Smith Jr., put a crimp in such a promising regular season campaign that wasn’t partially ironed out until the Hogs took down No. 1 seeded Kansas to return to the Sweet 16.
Although Arkansas burst out of the gate with a flurry of transfer signings to kick off the offseason, a couple recent misses in the world of recruiting, that of five-star Ron Holland and 6’11” transfer Grant Nelson, have slowed down the hype train a little heading into the 2023-24 season.
Don’t expect this to be the most physically dominant Arkansas basketball team of the Musselman era. Don’t expect it to be the most explosive either, since Brazile no longer has an above-the-rim running mate like Ricky Council IV beside him.
But do expect it to turn some heads, nonetheless.
Eric Musselman Provides Sneak Peek at New Team
There is, of course, much to sort out in the months stretching ahead, from the ball-handling duties between the likes of Devo Davis, El Ellis and Laydon Blocker, to which transfer guards Brazile develops the best rapport with on pick and roll situations to the role a defensively improved Jalen Graham would play.
“Roles and all that type of stuff have not been defined, and they won’t [be] until probably late September,” Musselman said on a recent episode of the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast. “But we have good length, we have good athleticism. We’re going to be able to have the flexibility to play small ball. I also think we can put a big line-up out there at times, so we’re really excited.”
In the four hours a week that Musselman and his staff get with the team at this point, they have already gotten a sense that the mix of five returning rotation players (three more than last year), five transfers and two true freshmen are already ahead of the curve in one area.
“We had a party at my house and from a chemistry standpoint, I think we’re a little bit ahead,” Musselman said. “We’re also not quite as young as we were, so I do think we’re able to add stuff quickly because of the veterans that we have on this year’s upcoming team.”
Chemistry is very important, of course, but it’s also intangible. The concept of camaraderie presents no clear-cut metrics for the stats-obsessed Musselman to track. That’s not the case when it comes to the fitness that forms the foundation of a championship-caliber team like Arkansas is expected to be next season. Some lines for the 2024 NCAA Championship according to online betting available now on 1xBet have the Hogs among the top 10 programs most likely to win it all.
Breaking New Ground for Arkansas Basketball
Not long after he arrived in Fayetteville in spring of 2019, Musselman explained that he set specific conditioning benchmarks for his Razorbacks in the summer: guards must run the mile in under 5:30, wings must run it in under 5:40 and bigs need to get in under 5:50. (He made an exception for Connor Vanover because of his body frame.)
Running the mile in specific times doesn’t translate directly to the training of fast-twitch muscles and development of explosiveness needed in basketball, but it does take mental strength and perseverance to accomplish. Developing discipline, in a setting away from the normal court and gym, is why Musselman pushes his players to do this. In previous years, the majority of the team had taken 3-5 weeks to accomplish the benchmarks he’s set out for specific positions.
This offseason, however, Eric Musselman has seen eight of his guys achieve their mile times already. It’s the most he’s ever seen to do that so early. “That’s usually been something that takes three to four weeks, sometimes five weeks,” he said. “This year’s team, everybody for sure will pass that mile within the second or third time go around.”
The early returns are enough to compel Musselman to say these Razorbacks are “probably the best conditioned team that I’ve had coming in.”
That’s a testament to the returning players (Brazile, Davis, Graham, Joseph Pinion, Makhi Mitchell) knowing what it takes with another year in the system alongside the mature mindset of the incoming transfers and freshmen. There are obvious game benefits to this kind of conditioning, since it should allow Arkansas’ quick guards to keep their legs enough to attack the basket late in contests while not sacrificing too much defensive intensity.
But, before the games even begin, excellent conditioning means the team will be able to train at a high level for longer in Musselman’s fast-paced practices this fall. That extra time will be vital to incorporating the new Razorbacks as soon as possible. Team chemistry is one thing, but chemistry plus conditioning lays the foundation for a season that could set even more milestones of success in the Musselman era.
Musselman on going against brand in 2023 NBA Draft
When it comes to style, Mussemlan has become known as a king of the polo shirt in college basketball circles. That will change, however, on NBA Draft night. “I am going to put a suit on for sure,” he told Torres. “We actually had a suit fitting at the Musselman house the other night.”
As far as choosing the “pretty basic and pretty simple” suit, Musselman says it was all up to his wife, Danyelle. “It was all her… I can’t even evaluate a suit that I would put on, so I just let her and my daughter [Mariah Musselman] gave me the thumbs up or thumbs down.”
This isn’t the first time Muss has gone all out sartorially speaking, however.
Shortly after he was hired as the Arkansas basketball coach, he bought three tailor-made suits.
“They’re the nicest suits he’s ever had in his life,” Danyelle Musselman told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. But after Hunter Yurachek told Musselman he could keep sporting those polos, “he’s never worn any of them even once.”
“The suits and new shirts that have his initials on the cuffs, they’re still just hanging in the closet.”
Make sure to watch Torres’ entire interview with Musselman below:
See more on Arkansas basketball from BoAS here: