The nickname came from Jon Rothstein early in the season: Eric Musselman. The Importer. So far this season, Razorbacks head coach Eric Musselman has lived up to the name, and he has Arkansas quickly becoming a transfer destination with his recruiting prowess in the transfer portal.
Guys like Justin Smith, Jalen Tate, and JD Notae are showing the players in the transfer portal that they can succeed and win at Arkansas. A sleeping giant in the SEC has finally woken, and Eric Musselman is building a dynasty.
Arkansas Becoming a Transfer Destination
When Eric Musselman came to Arkansas from Nevada, many had questions on his recruiting ability. His philosophy in Reno was to gain solid transfers who are experienced in college and use those pieces to compete at a high level. And at Nevada, it worked. Musselman had two Sweet 16 appearances in March, and he took that success and planted it directly in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
After a solid season with previous head coach Mike Anderson’s recruits that ended with an abrupt shutdown in the SEC Tournament, Eric Musselman hit the transfer portal and hit it hard. He snagged guys like Jalen Tate from Northern Kentucky, Vance Jackson from New Mexico, and Justin Smith from Indiana.
Prior to the 2020-2021 season, Musselman also brought in Connor Vanover and JD Notae, who were required to sit a year due to NCAA regulations. (Important to note moving forward, the NCAA has just passed a rule that gives each player a one-time transfer where they are immediately eligible at their new school.)
Justin Smith’s story is probably the one that most recruits in the transfer portal will want to hear. Smith came from an Indiana program where he started almost every game, and seemed to be underutilized. Initially, he had no intention of coming to Arkansas, but because of Eric Musselman’s preparation, he made the leap to the Hill.
After he got to Fayetteville, Smith made an immediate impact. he was a tenacious rebounder and strong post player, and with him on the court, the Hogs were a combined 19-4. At the beginning of SEC play, Smith suffered an ankle injury that required surgery and sidelined him for 2 weeks to recover. When he came back, he was more dominant than ever, and was arguably the main piece of their historic run in the second half of the season.
Arkansas and Musselman Ink New Contract
After a tough loss to eventual national champion Baylor in the Elite Eight earlier this season, many Arkansas fans grew anxious and worried that Eric Musselman would jump ship in Fayetteville to take a blue blood job. After all, many Hog fans of this generation have never seen a consistently dominant basketball team on the Hill, so it would make sense that Eric Musselman look to fill the North Carolina or Arizona coaching vacancy, right?
Wrong. Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek locked up Musselman with a 5-year, $20 million contract that keeps him in Fayetteville for a long time. Should his success continue as we expect it will, he will earn a contract extension that will hopefully keep Arkansas dominant for a long time. Part of his success will hinge on Arkansas becoming a transfer destination for recruits.
What this means going forward is that we can expect to see Coach Muss bring in another group of transfers, as well as high school guys, to create an even stronger and more cohesive group than we saw in March.
Eric Musselman. The Importer.
Immediately following the NCAA Tournament, we saw an absolute mass exodus in the transfer portal. At one point, there were almost three times as many players in the portal than schools in the NCAA. What that means is that while there are a lot of options for the players there, Arkansas can be very selective about the guys that they are going after. So far, the Hogs have landed three solid transfers, two of which are coming from the ACC.
Stanley Umede – South Dakota
Umede is one of the players Hog fans should be most excited about. The San Antonio, Texas native played ball at South Dakota last year, and posted some absolutely incredible numbers. He finished the season averaging 21.6 points per game on 47.1% shooting, to go along with seven rebounds and three assists per game. at 6’6″ and 210 pounds, Umede can rebound extremely well while also being a solid ball handler.
Au’diese Toney – Pittsburgh
Toney was the first transfer to get on board for the Hogs, leaving a Pittsburgh program where he averaged 14.4 points per game on 46.4% shooting, along with six rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. Toney also comes in at 6’6″ and 210 pounds, and last season shot 35% from beyond the arc.
The one thing that Arkansas struggled with last season was scoring from beyond the arc. They had some solid three-point shooting from Moody and Notae at times, but they were both streaky and inconsistent. For that reason, Coach Muss has made it a priority to find guys who are able to score from anywhere, but specifically, he knew he needed to find someone who could score from three. The last transfer that Arkansas has gotten can hopefully be that guy, and his name is Chris Lykes.
Chris Lykes – University of Miami
Lykes was the one transfer that seemed to intrigue the most. Standing at only 5’7″, Lykes is quick with his feet, and can find ways to score at all three levels. If you need a visual representation, take a look at the highlights below and it makes quick sense of why Eric Musselman wanted him on the Hill.
Lykes battled injury this past season and only played in two games, but his stats from the shortened 2019-2020 season give us plenty to look at, and plenty to drool over. His ability to make plays and score from everywhere on the court should pair nicely with guys like Devo Davis and Jaylin Williams, who are primed to take a massive step forward this coming season.
Arkansas Becoming a Transfer Destination
With the transfer season still in full swing, it will be interesting to see who the Hogs target next. Eric Musselman has already said that at this point in the off-season, they have the ability to be more selective on who they want to take next. They still have one more spot available, with freshman phenom Moses Moody declaring for the NBA draft where he is expected to go in the Lottery.
With Arkansas becoming a transfer destination for the experienced guys, it will be really interesting to see how the rest of the transfer season plays out. The Hogs still need to find a solid replacement for Justin Smith, and with guys like Brady Manek from Oklahoma, and Garrison Brooks from North Carolina being gone already, the pickings are starting to get slim.
One guy to keep an eye on to fill this role is Emanuel Miller from Texas A&M. Miller has got solid SEC experience, and in College Station, he averaged 16.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.
For Eric Musselman and the Hogs this year, it’s not about rebuilding but reloading. Sure, they lose guys like Jalen Tate, Moses Moody, and Justin Smith, who made their mark last season. Thankfully, the talent that is coming in will compliment the guys that are still there. If you’re a Hog fan, you have to love where they are at now, and the future of Arkansas becoming a transfer destination is looks extremely bright.
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