Recent NCAA Champs Show Johnell Davis Could Be Hogs’ Missing Piece

Tristen Newton, Johnell Davis, Arkansas basketball, transfer portal
photo credit: UConn Athletics / FAU Athletics

John Calipari’s roster is seemingly on the verge of growing once again, as Arkansas basketball is expected to land Johnell Davis out of the transfer portal.

According to a report by college basketball insider Jeff Goodman, the heralded Florida Atlantic transfer is expected to sign with the Razorbacks fresh off a visit to Fayetteville over the weekend.

The last hurdle Arkansas must clear is apparently the NBA Draft. Davis’ “preference is to go pro,” according to Goodman, but he’s been offered a “lucrative NIL deal north of $1 million” to play one final season of college ball with the Razorbacks.

If that comes to fruition, it’d be another splash in the portal by Calipari. Widely viewed as one of the top few transfers this cycle, Davis spent the last four years at Florida Atlantic, where he was part of the Owls’ 2023 Final Four team and earned AAC Player of the Year honors this past season.

The 6-foot-4, 185-pound guard is a consensus top-3 player in the portal, with On3 actually ranking him No. 1 overall. He is No. 2 on 247Sports and No. 3 on ESPN.

It would be the second time this week that the Razorbacks have reeled in a priority target from the portal. Jonas Aidoo, a big man from Tennessee, announced his pledge Monday night.

The 2024-25 Arkansas basketball roster, which had featured just one walk-on with Calipari took over April 10, currently has five of 13 scholarship spots filled. The aforementioned Aidoo joins a quartet of players following him from Kentucky to Fayetteville in transfer Zvonimir Ivisic and incoming freshmen Karter Knox, Boogie Fland and Billy Richmond III.

Both transfers are ranked among the top 50 in the portal, with Aidoo being a consensus top-15 transfer, while all three freshmen are 247Sports Composite five-star recruits and ranked inside the top 25 nationally.

It’s worth noting, though, that both Davis and Aidoo are also going through the NBA Draft process. They are among the 195 early entrants the NBA announced Tuesday. The deadline for them to withdraw and play at Arkansas next season is May 29.

Johnell Davis with FAU Basketball

Coming out of high school, Johnell Davis was hardly recruited despite putting up incredible numbers at 21st Century Charter in Gary, Ind. and playing on a loaded AAU team that featured eventual top-5 pick Jaden Ivey.

He ultimately committed to Florida Atlantic during the summer between his junior and senior seasons, picking the Owls over a pair of MAC schools, Kent State and Northern Illinois.

Even playing in Conference USA, it took a while before Davis emerged as a true star. As a freshman, he played just 9.7 minutes per game on a team that barely finished above .500. The following year, his playing increased – 19.0 minutes per game – but he was still a role player on a team that lost in the first round of the CBI.

It wasn’t until his junior season that Davis really burst onto the scene. He averaged 13.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.5 steals, helping FAU win the CUSA regular-season and tournament titles before a Cinderella run that ended a buzzer-beater shy of playing for a national title.

Davis was a first-team All-CUSA selection and was the CUSA Sixth Man of the Year, as he came off the bench in more than half of the Owls’ games. He turned in a monster performance against Fairleigh Dickinson in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, finishing with 29 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals.

Rather than hit the transfer portal after that season, Davis returned to Florida Atlantic for his senior season and took his game to another level. Despite playing in the much tougher American Athletic Conference, he averaged 18.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.4 steals in 32.2 minutes. The steady hand and smooth, skilled control he shows in the clip below made him a unanimous first-team All-AAC selection and the AAC co-Player of the Year:

Even with his increased minutes, tougher competition and higher usage, Davis’ efficiency didn’t suffer. His shooting percentage barely dropped – from 48.6% to 48.3% – even though he took 3.2 more shots per game and his 3-point percentage jumped up significantly, from 35.7% as a junior to 41.4% last season. He’s also shot at least 85% from the free throw line the last two seasons.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I’ve never been around someone more competitive, who wants to win, has the drive to win that he does,” former FAU basketball coach Dusty May told Sports Illustrated in February.

It wasn’t until May left Florida Atlantic to become the new head coach at Michigan that Davis opted to hit the transfer portal.

What it Means for Arkansas Basketball

It can’t be overstated how big of a pickup this would be for an Arkansas basketball team still being put together by John Calipari.

A three-level scorer, Johnell Davis didn’t just feast on low-level competition last season. He actually averaged 20.8 points against the six-high major opponents FAU played, including a season-high 35 against Arizona.

He’s also an elite rebounder, especially given his 6-foot-4 frame, and a willing passer with a ton of experience both in college and on the big stage that is the NCAA Tournament. That would make Davis a key piece on what is quickly shaping up to be an ultra-talented roster with Final Four aspirations.

A transfer out of the AAC playing a key role on a team trying to make that next jump in the Big Dance is not unprecedented. In fact, Tristen Newton has helped UConn win back-to-back national titles since transferring in from East Carolina — and he was just the No. 19 overall transfer in the 2022-23 cycle, according to ESPN.

Of course, Newton was the Huskies’ point guard and Davis is more of a shooting or combo guard. Having a lead guard who can light it up from 3-point range, which Davis did at a 41.4% clip last season, is also critical to postseason success.

UConn had Cam Spencer (44.0%) this year after losing Jordan Hawkins (38.8%) to the NBA Draft after its first title. When Kansas won it all in 2022, it had Ochai Agbaji (40.7%) and Christian Braun (38.6%) filling it up from deep, while Baylor had Jared Butler (41.6%) and Davion Mitchell (44.7%) doing the same during its title run the year before. Virginia finally got over the hump with three sharp-shooters – Kyle Guy (42.6%), De’Andre Hunter (43.8%) and Ty Jerome (39.9%) – in 2019.

The other thing those players have in common is that almost all of them were in at least their third year of college basketball, with Hawkins at UConn last season being the lone exception.

Having a player like Davis wouldn’t necessarily guarantee postseason success for Arkansas next season, but he would certainly be an important piece on John Calipari’s first squad.


Below, Jeff Goodman gets into the $1.2-$1.3 milliion NIL deal to which he’s heard Johnell Davis has agreed:

YouTube video

YouTube video

Check out more than 10 minutes worth of highlights of new Arkansas basketball commit Johnell Davis from last year’s NCAA Tournament run and this past season when he was the AAC co-Player of the Year:

YouTube video
YouTube video

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