Musselman sees compliment of talents in five-star trio

Faces change, but expectations remain the same for Eric Musselman and the Arkansas Razorbacks. After consecutive Elite Eight appearances, the Hogs find themselves at or near the top of most way-too-early projections for the 2022-23 season despite a roster overhaul that will welcome at least 10 newcomers into the fold.

A significant portion of the hype can be attributed to the nation’s No. 2 incoming recruiting class, which just so happens to be the highest ranked group in program history. All six signees are top 100 prospects in the industry generated 247Sports Composite Rankings, headed by a five-star, McDonald’s All-American trio of Nick Smith Jr., Anthony Black and jordan walsh.

Adding three five-star talents in the same class is a rare luxury that also comes with its own set of challenges when multiple alpha personalities with lofty goals are asked to share the spotlight for the betterment of the team. However, what is striking about this group is it certainly gives off the impression as one more than willing to make any individual sacrifices necessary to achieve the collective goal. They have already formed quite the bond before even arriving on campus.

As Musselman told the Morning Mayhem crew on 103.7 The Buzz in a recent interview, part of the equation started early on in the recruiting process. Relationship building and transparent communication are good ways to ensure everyone is on the same page.

“It’s really important that you try to understand who they are as people and that their short and long-term goals align with what you see as a program,” said Musselman.

It’s fair to say Musselman—preparing for his fourth season at Arkansas—likes what he sees with his dynamic youngsters who each bring something unique to the table. It starts with the programs most highly ranked signee in the modern rankings era in Smith, a student of the game who just might be one of a select few who can match Musselman’s competitive fire.

“Nick Smith Jr. is one of the most competitive people ever,” said Musselman. “Last night at 11:15, I got a text message about how Tennessee plays the pick-and-roll and how are we going to adjust when they trap the pick-and-roll. That’s from a high school senior who has not stepped foot on a college campus. We know what Nick’s competitive nature is. We know his will to win.”

Smith was the first domino to fall and has served as a critical recruiter since he’s built and strengthened strong relationships with Walsh and Black, who both jumped on the Muss Bus a little later on. In Black, Musselman sees a versatile player who naturally brings the best out of his teammates.

“You move to a guy like Anthony Black and you’re going to see one of the most unselfish players that we’ve seen in a Razorback uniform,” said Musselman. “He loves to make the people around him better. At his size of him, 6-7, to be able to facilitate, can play multiple positions, can guard multiple positions. His personality of him, and Nick’s, those two guys of late have really formed a strong bond.”

Speaking of versatility, Musselman will have no shortage of options when it comes to how he uses Walsh, who joined Smith at mid-court in Bud Walton to lead a Hog Call during the season.

“Then Jordan Walsh, I call him a violent defender. He’s a guy who gets loose balls. He can rebound. He can really, really run the floor. A guy that can probably guard five positions if need be. Those three guys, and Nick and Jordan early on had developed a relationship, so those three guys, it’s really important that they blend and mix and their games compliment one another.”

Of course, the trio played together at the McDonald’s All-American Game in late-March. Smith and Black shared the floor with the Team USA squad at the Nike Hoops Summit. They’ll look to continue building chemistry when the Razorbacks convene on campus around Memorial Day to begin summer practices and workouts.

In addition to Smith, Black and Walsh, Arkansas welcomes a trio of four-star talents in two-time Arkansas Gatorade Player of the Year Derrian Ford, Alabama Mr. Basketball Barry Dunning and Arkansas Class 4A All-State sharpshooter Joseph Pinion to go along with transfer quartet Trevon Brazile, Jalen Graham, Makhi Mitchell and Makhel Mitchell.

Three returners from last seasons’ Elite Eight run are expected back in the mix in Davonte Davis, Jaxson Robinson and Kamani Johnson. All-SEC forward Jaylin Williams’ status remains in limbo as he is testing the NBA Draft waters with the door still left open for a potential return to Arkansas.

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