Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman doesn’t fret over the transitive nature of college basketball these days.
Players enter and exit programs much more rapidly today than at any other time in the history of the college game. For Musselman, it’s just a fact of today’s game.
Whether it’s players transferring out or into a program or stars reaching for their dreams in the NBA or overseas after their freshman, sophomore, and junior seasons, the reality of the situation is more and more players exit a program before finishing their eligibility.
Musselman is not one to struggle against the tide. He embraced the situation as the head coach during his four seasons at Nevada before he came to Arkansas just over a year ago, and he is doing the best he can to make it work for him and the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Flexibility is one of Musselman’s strengths as a coach, and that flexibility has allowed him to transform Arkansas’ program from one that was mired in being good or pretty good, but not close enough to the standard set by Hall of Fame coaches Eddie Sutton and Nolan Richardson to one that has the chance to break into the Top 25 this season and possibly better.
Musselman’s background in the NBA and especially the NBA’s developmental league prepared him for the movement we’re seeing in college basketball today.
In a teleconference Wednesday, Musselman made the point that as an NBA coach he had little control of the roster. A trade might be made that sent four of his players elsewhere and brought in five to replace them
Musselman added coaching in the D League, the NBA’s counterpart to minor-league baseball, was even more frenetic with players being sent up and down on a regular basis.
Musselman not only learned to roll with the punches, but to come out of it throwing a one-two combination.
Musselman has already said goodbye to last year’s seniors — Adrio Bailey, Jeantal Cylla, and Jamario Bell — junior Mason Jones whose intent on going pro, and exiting transfers Jalen Harris (Georgetown), and Reggie Chaney (Houston).
It doesn’t worry him that he will have seven newcomers (four freshmen and three graduate transfers) in the program this year along with four players who redshirted last season.
Musselman and his staff can count on the return of junior Desi Sills, who started and filled the sixth-man role last year, and Ethan Henderson, who watched from the bench for three-fourths of the season before finding his role late in the coronavirus-shortened season.
Like all Hog fans, Musselman is waiting to find out if sharp-shooting junior Isaiah Joe will return for his junior year or if he will make the leap to professional basketball along with Jones, last-year’s leading scorer.
Joe has until Aug. 3 to pull his name from the NBA Draft pool. His decision is pivotal for the Razorbacks. Joe is a multidimensional player whose experience and talent really can’t be replaced. As a two-year starter, Joe would be not only considered one of the most experienced but one of the best returning players in the SEC.
Joe’s departure wouldn’t cripple the Razorbacks, but his experience, gamesmanship, and leadership might mean two, three or four more wins for the Hogs, which would greatly affect their seeding in the NCAA Tournament. They might be wins that actually make the difference in having their dance card punched for March Madness or settling on a trip to the NIT.
Yes, I know fans, players, and coaches are expecting more, but we really don’t know what the coming season has in store for the Razorbacks. Last year’s team gelled, particularly early, and accomplished more than most expected, but Joe’s injury coincided with a midseason slide that made it debatable whether Arkansas would make the NCAA Tournament or have to settle for the NIT.
No matter how good the Hogs are next season, the outlook is even better if Joe is part of the mix.
Musselman said he has a plan no matter whether Joe stays or goes. That’s his philosophy, plan and prepare for as many eventualities as possible.
Again the Razorbacks seem poised to make strides in Musselman’s second year as head coach, but as we continue to see through the challenging times we’re facing, nothing can be taken for granted.