Razorback newcomers hope to push Hogs back into NCAA Tourney play

It doesn’t seem like it, but basketball season is just around the corner. The Arkansas Razorbacks played their Red-White game last Sunday, and Friday at 7 p.m. they play host to Central Missouri in their first exhibition game of the season.

This will be one of those seasons when programs will be a necessary purchase at Bud Walton Arena, at least early in the season.

While familiar faces and high scorers Moses Kingsley and Dusty Hannahs return for their senior seasons, Mike Anderson and his coaching staff, which now includes Razorback great Scotty Thurman, have added a lot of new moving parts to the Razorbacks roster.

While there may not be any two players as talented as the tandem of Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls, who helped the Hogs to their best season in two decades in 2014-2015, the injection of seven first-year players into the Razorbacks’ roster gives Anderson the deepest and perhaps most-talented roster he’s had to work with since returning to guide Arkansas’ program.

Here’s a rundown on the Razorbacks’ newcomers:

Dustin Thomas may end up being Kingsley’s best friend on the floor. The 6-8, 225-pound, junior transfer from Colorado gives the Hogs a physical presence in the paint on defense, who is not shy about going to the glass. He’s not a big-time scorer, but he is a blue-collar player that doesn’t mind doing the dirty work. Expect him to be an anchor in the starting lineup.

In the Red-White game, Thomas scored 21 points, grabbed 8 rebounds, made 2 steals and passed out seven assists for the Red team that won 118-113 in overtime.

Jaylen Barford is a junior college All-American, who was considered the No. 1 junior college transfer in the nation. He led the junior college ranks in scoring with an average of 26.2 ppg., last season. At 6-3, 202, Barford gives the Hogs a big guard with the strength to withstand defensive pressure and finish at the basket, and the quickness to slash into the paint. He may sound like a shooting guard by the description, but he is adept at manning the point.

In the Red-White game, Barford scored 23 points, grabbed 7 boards, made 2 steals, and dished 7 assists for the Red squad.

Daryl Macon is another junior college All-American who was ranked as the No. 3 JUCO recruit in the nation last year. Macon, a Little Rock native who always dreamed of being a Razorback, averaged 23.9 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game last season at Holmes Community College. He ranked sixth in the NJCAA in points per game, shot 49 percent from the field, 37.6 percent 3-point line and 82.9 percent from the foul line. At 6-3, he has the build and quickness to be an outstanding defender in Anderson’s system, if he will embrace the role.

In the Red-White game, Macon led all scorers with 28 points for the Whites. He also had 4 assists, 2 rebounds, and 2 steals.

C.J. Jones is a 6-5 freshman guard from Birmingham, Ala., that was a surprise performer in the four games the Hogs played in Spain, leading the Razorbacks in scoring. As a senior at Central Park Christian, he averaged 28 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals per game. He is a gifted scorer, but his slight, 175-pound build could hamper him in the rigors of SEC play.

In the Red-White game, Jones scored 20 points, had four rebounds, 2 steals and 1 assist for the whites.

Brachen Hazen is a 6-5, 200-pound freshman forward from Fort Wayne, Ind. Like Jones, he played surprisingly well in the Hogs’ games in Spain. Hazen averaged 16.1 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.8 blocks as a senior at Fort Wayne. He is athletic and aggressive, and will contribute, but does need time in the weight room.

He scored 17 points, grabbed 3 rebounds, had an assist and a steal for the Reds in the Red-White game.

Arlando Cook is a 6-8, 215-pound forward, who was rated as the No. 6 junior college recruit in the nation last spring. The St. Louis native averaged 16.0 points and 10.1 rebounds per game at Connors State last season. Cook is a worker, who is tough and quick for his position. Like Thomas, he should work well inside with Kingsley.

In the Red-Whit game, Cook scored 13 points, grabbed 13 rebounds, made 2 steals and 2 assists and blocked a shot for the Whites.

Adrio Bailey is a 6-6, 204-pound freshman forward from Campti, La. Bailey averaged 19.5 points, 12.7 rebounds and 3.9 blocks as a senior and averaged 15 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, three steals and 2.3 blocks as a junior. He has the instincts and quickness to be an asset to the Hogs on both ends of the court.

In the Red-White game, Bailey scored 9 points, grabbed 3 rebounds and had an assist and a steal for the Whites.

This group should take some pressure off sharpshooter Hannahs and Kingsley, who was voted preseason SEC Player of the Year at SEC Basketball Media Tipoff last week. Manny Watkins is back for his senior season, and Anton Beard and Thompson hope to have better seasons after experiencing the sophomore slump last year.

I’m looking forward to getting to watch this group meld into a team and to see how much damage they can do in SEC and hopefully NCAA Tournament play.

After Friday, the Razorbacks have another exhibition game on Nov. 4 against Emporia State, and then tip off the regular season on Nov. 11 against Fort Wayne at Bud Walton Arena.

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