Arkansas basketball head coach Eric Musselman, as we know, turned plenty of heads across the nation with his impressive 2022 recruiting haul. He managed to pull in six ESPN Top 100 recruits, including three five-star recruits and the No. 1 player in the nation according to 247 Sports in Nick Smith Jr.
Now, the page turns to the class of 2023, which has already started out with a bang given the recent Razorback commitment of 4-star point guard Layden Blocker. The Little Rock native is better than advertised, many insiders believe. “You watch the games, you see what he does, you see what he doesn’t do, but when you actually break down the stats, he is maybe even better than we think,” says basketball Aaron Torres, relaying Arkansas basketball writer Jackson Collier’s opinion. “He’s probably a guy that I think is five-star, maybe a McDonald’s All-American by the end of the year.”
Introducing Ron Holland
Now, Musselman and his staff are eyeing landing a commitment of their first current 5-star of the class of 2023. One possibility is big man Baye Fall, whom the recruiting outlet On3 predicts is a more likely commitment to Texas or Auburn at this stage.. While the state of Texas’ importance in Razorback football recruiting is well known, it appears a major talent pipeline is emerging there for the basketball program.
Then, there’s the Texan native Ron Holland, whom On3 analysts thought in May was more likely to land in Fayetteville.
A likely McDonald’s All-American in 2023, Ron Holland Jr., a spectacular 6-9 forward out of Duncanville, TX, where he teamed with current Razorback Anthony Black.
Holland, a lengthy and athletic power forward, is ranked as the No. 4 player in the 2023 class according to ESPN with a 95 overall player grade – tied for the highest in the class. He’s slotted as the No. 9 player nationally and No. 4 at his position according to 247 Composite rankings.
A weeks ago, Holland narrowed his possible destinations to Arkansas, UCLA, Kentucky, Texas and the NBA G League.
In Texas and Kentucky, Arkansas is battling two of its fiercest rivals for the services of someone with the potential of becoming the next great Texan Razorback. In the past decades, Texas natives like Oliver Miller and Mason Jones have played played major roles in building the Arkansas basketball program (not to mention Nolan Richardson was Texan). But there has been a recent definite uptick in Lone Star talent with two McDonald’s All-Americans original from Texas (Anthony Black, Jordan Walsh) currently on the team.
Ron Holland has good things to say about each of the programs. On the Longhorns, he told 247Sports: ““I’m expecting a lot out of UT and Coach Beard. They’ve got a guy I know very well in Arterio Morris and a big season coming up. I’m expecting to see a lot of them.”
On Arkansas, he emphasized that Musselman and Black “want me out there. They really want that, so they stretch out trying to get me out there. He’s a hard-nosed coach as well. He gets dudes in the league as well and they’re going to have a great run this year with a good group of guys coming in.”
Finally, when it comes to Big Blue Nation, he adds: “They have a great program and [John Calipari] has a resume of getting dudes in the league. I see myself coming in and impacting the program, and him helping me chase my dream of being a one-and-done and playing and staying in the league.”
Razorback Recruiting’s Emerging Calling Card
In past, Calipari had a clear recruiting advantage over Arkansas in this department (see: Malik Monk), but that advantage is rapidly diminishing as Arkansas is staring to put its own share of one-and-dones in the league. That started with Moses Moody last year and will likely include two of three in the 2023 NBA Draft.
Musselman and his staff on NBA-experienced assistants prepare their players for the pros with a level of detail that is rare in the college game. That was was stuck out to Holland the most on his trip to Fayetteville earlier in June. The visit and coaches’ attentiveness “definitely brought up their chances because they’ve shown me a lot of things,” Holland told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “They showed me a lot of my analytics and my stats from these past few seasons. Showing where I can improve at and what I’ve been doing good at. Comparing it to NBA players. I really haven’t seen that before.”
This level of depth and analysis separates Musselman’s programs from others, says Arkansas basketball reporter Kevin McPherson. In the end, it’s a matter of spending more time grinding in the film room and drawing up reports than other staffs. “Breaking down the players’ strengths and weaknesses, you have to do your homework. You have to spend a lot of time on that stuff to be able to convey those messages,” McPherson said on Pig Trail Nation.
“And those players, from their trainers and their coaches, are hearing some of that stuff already. So it’s got to be a welcome sight when you’re visiting and talking to coaches from several schools when one school really stands out because their plan is not just telling you how you fit, but they explain why you’ll fit, where you need to get better, what your strengths are. And they can help you project ahead, not only building yourself as a player, but even branding — because who does branding better than Eric Musselman…”
Building Arkansas Relationships
Tarasha Holland, Ron Holland’s mother, noted before Ron’s trip that the Holland family is familiar with traveling to Arkansas because Ron’s father, Ron Holland Sr., has family in Hope. She also commented on Musselman and his staff’s commitment to having consistent communication with her son. “We met with Coach [Keith] Smart,” Holland’s mother said. “It was my first time personally meeting him. The coaching staff has definitely been on top of recruiting Ron… Coach Muss sends him texts after each game about his play.”
The Arkansas-related ties don’t stop there, however. Holland played alongside Arkansas point guard signee, Anthony Black, last season in Duncanville where he averaged 15.9 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 2.0 steals while helping to lead his team to their third consecutive 6A state title. Ron Holland also teamed up with another Arkansas signee, Jordan Walsh, on the 17U Drive Nation AAU team in the 2021 Nike EYBL circuit.
Anthony Black was recently asked how much of an impact Jordan Walsh and Nick Smith Jr had on his impact to join the Hogs, and whether he has been putting any ideas in Hollands’ head about joining the Razorbacks next season.
“The same thing Nick [Smith] and Jordan [Walsh] told me,” says Razorback signee Anthony Black about his hand in recruiting Ron Holland. “I’m not going to pressure him like ‘bro, you have to come to Arkansas,’ but obviously I think the coaching staff we have can help him get to where he wants to go. I tell him ‘you’ve got to keep in perspective what your goals are and who’s going to help you get there.’ I’ve been talking to him a little bit.”
Familiarity with the state, incoming players, and coaching staff can only do positive things for the Hogs’ chances of landing the five-star forward.
Ron Holland Strengths and Weaknesses
Holland, standing at roughly 6-8 and just under 200 lbs, prefers to spend most of his time making moves from the perimeter. He has a quick first step that allows him to maneuver around larger defenders and a decent shooting stroke that will serve him well at the next level. Though an improving shooter, Holland does most of his damage in the paint, whether off of dribble-drive opportunities or passes from his teammates after a well-timed cut to the basket. He does not have “out of the gym” bounce, but his athleticism and touch around the rim make him an elite interior threat.
Perhaps Holland’s biggest strength is his ability to crash the offensive glass and outwork other players on the court. Few high school players have a feel and drive for offensive rebounds like Ron Holland does. He hasn’t yet displayed consistent post moves, but this isn’t necessarily a weakness in the modern game since he projects to be more of a small forward/power forward type at the next level.
Averaging roughly two steals per game last season, Holland has already displayed the ability to be an elite defender, especially when operating within a team-style defense rather than defending one-on-one considering his ability to play the passing lanes well. The part of his game that stands the most to gain is his body. At roughly 6-8 or 6-9 and listed at less than 200 lbs, Holland could stand to put on extra muscle as well as work on his overall athleticism, though neither should be considered weaknesses. This five-star recruit can be as good as his work ethic allows.
Ron Holland Player Comparison
Perhaps not a familiar name to the casual fan, Dorian Finney-Smith – a former Florida Gator – is the starting power forward for the Dallas Mavericks who were recently eliminated from the Western Conference Finals. Finney-Smith plays both forward positions at roughly 6-8 and relies on his length, shooting, and high motor to be a contributing factor on a nearly elite NBA team. Holland has potential to far surpass what Finney-Smith has accomplished, but the former Gator averaged nearly three offensive rebounds per game during his time in Gainesville while eventually developing into a deadly 3-point-marksmen. This is a path that Holland could easily find himself on at the collegiate level.
The Razorback target could also draw comparisons to high-motor wing players who are active in cutting to the rim and crashing the offensive like Kelly Oubre Jr, Aaron Gordon, or John Collins, though all of these players possess different parts of their game that don’t directly translate to Holland.
Though they play slightly different positions, Holland could fill a “glue guy” role similar to that of Au’Diese Toney and Justin Smith. Coach Musselman loves to have players who can affect games without always having plays called specifically for them. Holland absolutely checks that box with his off-ball slashing and offensive rebounding prowess. However, Holland has the ball-handling ability to play a more primary role in the offense than either of the two former Hogs, perhaps more similar to that of former Razorback guard Moses Moody. The current Golden State Warrior was a menace on the offensive glass but clearly possessed the talent to be a focal point of the Razorbacks’ offense during his time in Arkansas.
Potential Razorback Role in 2023-24
With Musselman’s ability and willingness to completely flip his roster in one offseason, it’s nearly impossible to predict what the roster will look like a year from today, but let’s take a stab at it anyway.
Nick Smith Jr is almost certainly headed to the NBA Draft, and Anthony Black and Jordan Walsh both hold the potential to climb draft boards. With Musselman’s track record at Arkansas so far, we’ll assume that all three players are gone next season for the sake of this projection. That leaves Derrian Ford, Joseph Pinion, and Barry Dunning from the incoming class barring any transfers.
The transfers coming in for the 2022-23 season include Trevon Brazile and Ricky Council IV who have one and two years of collegiate experience respectively. Both of these players are strong candidates to be on the roster next season. Then there are the Mitchell twins who showed interest in the NBA Draft before transferring to Arkansas, making their presence next season less likely. Finally, Jalen Graham holds three years of experience under his belt, making it unlikely that he returns to Arkansas in 2023-24 for a fifth collegiate season.
The returning players from last year’s roster include Devo Davis and Kamani Johnson. Davis will be a junior in the upcoming season, meaning he could return as a senior in 2023-24, but 2022-23 will be Johnson’s fourth collegiate season. He could use his COVID year of eligibility, but no Razorbacks have opted into their extra COVID year yet, so it’s safe to assume this season could be Johnson’s last.
That leaves us with six players on the 2023-24 roster before accounting for transfers or freshmen – only two of which are considered forwards: Barry Dunning and Trevon Brazile. This leaves the door wide open for Ron Holland to join the Hogs and immediately contend for a starting forward role and team leader alongside what is bound to be another impressive recruiting haul.
Hear more about recruiting from Ron Holland (who hasn’t announced his decision date) here:
Aaron Torres on Layden Blocker
“When you talk about the rising brands in college basketball right now, there’s established brands. Duke’s awesome. Kentucky’s awesome. Gonzaga’s awesome. UCLA’s awesome. But when you talk about rising brands in college basketball, I don’t know if there’s anybody quite like Arkansas.
“What I think is interesting about the Layden Blocker commitment is that Arkansas had in 2021, so it’s not inconceivable that you would have a great recruiting class there…. we are now talking about three elite recruiting classes potentially in four years with Eric Musselman as a head coach.”
“This is the first kid committed for 2023, but they’re very much in the mix for five-star Ron Holland. They’re very much in the mix for the kid Baye Fall, who’s a five-star. And so I just bring it up because if you start talking about three elite classes in four years, that’s not a coincidence. That is a recruiting juggernaut – and that is an airtight recruiting pitch.”
Check out the rest from Torres here:
Author: Brandon Baker
Basketball Department Head at overtimeheroics.net
Twitter: @Panamaniac03 and @OTHArkansas
Facebook Page: Overtime Heroics Arkansas