After hitting a home run with Ricky Council IV this year, Arkansas basketball has nabbed not one, not two, but three players from the AAC via the transfer portal this offseason — landing Tramon Mark from Houston, Khalif Battle from Temple and Jeremiah Davenport from Cincinnati.
This, however, is about Battle, a 6-foot-5 guard originally from New Jersey. He announced his decision Wednesday, three days after Mark’s pledge and a day before Davenport’s.
Rising from the ashes of the old Big East, the American Athletic Conference has put multiple teams in the NCAA Tournament every year since its debut season in 2014, asserting itself as a borderline high-major league.
Council, who was the AAC Sixth Man of the Year at Wichita State, didn’t seem to struggle too much with the jump from that league to the SEC. He led Arkansas in scoring and earned second-team All-SEC honors while positioning himself to be taken in this summer’s NBA Draft.
There is hope that Battle could follow suit in 2023-24, as he’s widely viewed as one of the best players in the transfer portal this cycle. Rivals (No. 30), 247Sports (No. 12) and On3 (No. 10) each rate him as a four-star prospect and rank him within the top 30 overall players in the portal.
That means all three services have Battle ranked higher than the Razorbacks’ first two transfer portal additions: Mark and Keyon Menifield Jr. from Washington.
Khalif Battle’s College Career
A unanimous four-star recruit in the Class of 2019, Khalif Battle was ranked as high as No. 82 nationally by ESPN coming out of Trenton Catholic in New Jersey. He just cracked the top 100 in the 247Sports Composite, checking in at No. 99.
The younger brother of former Syracuse standout Tyus Battle, a two-time All-ACC selection, Battle decided to forge his own path in college and turned down the Orange – as well as the likes of UConn, Miami (Fla.), Rutgers, Clemson and Washington – to sign with Butler.
He was the Bulldogs’ highest-ranked out-of-state recruit in program history, but things never panned out. He averaged just 3.0 points in 11.0 minutes and didn’t even play the final three games of his freshman season.
That led to Battle hitting the portal and transferring closer to home at Temple, which means coming to Arkansas is Battle’s second transfer. But he should be immediately eligible because he is on track to graduate in May and graduate transfers can play at their next stop without sitting out.
At Temple, despite missing the start of his sophomore season with a hamstring injury, Battle earned third-team All-AAC honors as a sophomore when he led the Owls in scoring (15.0 ppg) and finished second on the team in rebounding (6.4 rpg).
Battle was off to a great start in 2021-22, averaging 21.4 points over the first seven games before going down with a season-ending foot injury – a fractured fifth metatarsal. At the time of the injury, he was leading the AAC in scoring and three-point percentage (48.8%).
It was a small sample size, but enough to land him a spot on the preseason All-AAC second team heading into this past season and he mostly delivered on the hype, despite not making one of the postseason all-conference teams.
Coming off the bench in all but eight of his 27 games, Battle played starter minutes (32.2 per game) and averaged 17.9 points on 41.0% shooting, plus 3.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.0 steals. As you can see in the below video, he was a prolific shooter for Temple, knocking down 35.0% of his 8.1 attempts per game, while also making 89.8% of his free throw attempts.
Controversy with Khalif Battle
Just as he was starting to really heat up offensively, Battle left Temple for personal reasons and never returned, missing the final five games. That followed a game in which he played only 17 minutes and missed all four of his shots before being benched after playing only 17 minutes against Wichita State on Feb. 16.
In the five games immediately before that, Battle averaged 25.4 points and was a scorching 19 of 37 (51.4%) from deep while also going 34 of 35 at the charity stripe.
Battle’s abrupt departure from the Owls sparked considerable criticism among some Temple basketball fans, not dissimilar in tone to the way the abrupt opt out of Rakeem Boyd, the former Razorback football star, riled up many Arkansas fans in late 2020.
Battle took to Twitter to defend himself on March 14, writing: “Never quit in my life and I never been a quitter.. the real kno[w] the truth. love you temple forever and always. thank you for the memories and embracing me. This university will always be family to me.”
What Battle Brings to Arkansas Basketball
If the Razorbacks brought in Tramon Mark as a defensive stopper similar to Davonte Davis, then Khalif Battle can almost be viewed as the opposite – a major scoring threat similar to Ricky Council IV.
Battle can score on all three levels, with one big difference between him and Council being the fact that he is actually a threat from outside.
While Council made only 33.9% of his career 3-pointers before arriving in Fayetteville, including knocking down only 30.6% of his 3.0 attempts as a sophomore, Battle is coming off a two-year stretch in which he shot 37.3% on 7.7 attempts per game.
However, he’s probably not quite a “sharpshooter,” according to a scouting report written by Sports Illustrated’s Jam Hines in February, while he was still playing for Temple.
“At 6’5 with a strong frame, Battle is one of the most confident multi-level shot makers in the country,” Hines wrote. “His confidence rarely, if ever, wavers. … Battle is more of a shot maker than shooter and his shot selection can get shaky at times, but he’s a surefire G League prospect and potential two-way contract candidate because (of) his size, shot creation and scoring ability.”
David Cobb of CBS Sports, which ranked him as the 20th-best overall transfer, said he has struggled on the other end of the floor, as well, which could hinder him at Arkansas if that area doesn’t get better because Musselman places a huge emphasis on defense.
“The 6-5 guard has struggled with injuries during his career but has proven to be a dynamic and explosive offensive player when healthy,” Cobb wrote. “One downside is that he needs to improve as a defender to be a high-impact starter for a better team.”
Arkansas Basketball Roster for 2023-24
The addition of Khalif Battle briefly put Arkansas above the NCAA scholarship limit for Division I men’s basketball, but it quickly got back down to 13 players when Anthony Black finally declared for the NBA Draft on ESPN less than an hour later. On Thursday, however, Arkansas once again popped above the limit with Jeremiah Davenport’s commitment.
Considering Davenport is a 6’7″ forward and Battle is a 6’5″ guard, it looks like the 6’7″ Jordan Walsh and/or 6’3″ Davonte Davis are very unlikely to return for the 2023-24 season. Walsh is a borderline first-/second-round pick and is still weighing his options, while Davis is testing the waters.
If one or both of them leave, it would either bring Arkansas back down to its allotted 13 scholarships or leave it with one more spot to fill via the transfer portal. As of the ever-changing “right now,” here’s where things stand:
- Jalen Graham — super senior
- Makhi Mitchell — super senior (yet to announce his decision)
- Davonte Davis — senior (testing NBA Draft waters)
- Tramon Mark — redshirt junior (transfer from Houston)
- Khalif Battle — redshirt junior (transfer from Temple)
- Trevon Brazile — redshirt sophomore
- Jordan Walsh — sophomore (yet to announce his decision)
- Keyon Menifield Jr. — sophomore (transfer from Washington)
- Joseph Pinion — sophomore
- Derrian Ford — sophomore
- Barry Dunning Jr. — sophomore
- Layden Blocker — freshman (2023 signee)
- Baye Fall — freshman (2023 signee)
- Jeremiah Davenport — senior (transfer from Cincinnati)
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