Joe’s return gives Hogs the experience to hang their hat on

Isaiah Joe endeared himself even more to Arkansas Razorbacks fans — if that’s even possible — Saturday when he announced that he would return to Fayetteville for his junior year.

If you listened very hard, you might have heard a “Woooo Pig Soooie” or two echo though the Ozarks as word of his decision spread through various forms of social media.

Joe revealed his decision to Razorback coach Eric Musselman about a week ago, and sat on the secret until last Saturday. Musselman might have wanted Joe to think about the decision for a while to make sure it was the right one.

If there wasn’t as much will-he, won’t-he speculation about the Fort Smith native’s decision, it’s likely because many felt that Joe was headed to one professional league or another like his teammate Mason Jones, who has elected to give the pro ranks a try after a phenomenal season where he was named co-MVP of the SEC.

It just seemed that things were stacked that way for Joe, too, the longer it took for him to make a decision. No one could have legitimately blamed Joe had he opted to take his talents to the next level. He busted his tail for the Hogs for two seasons, one under Mike Anderson as a freshman and then last year during Musselman’s inaugural year.

All you can ask of a college player is for him to to play hard and keep his nose clean while he is on the team, and Joe did that and more as a Razorback.

Had he moved on to the NBA, Joe would be remembered as one of the better shooters in recent Razorback memory. He has a sweet stroke with fantastic range that’s going to translate well at the next level.

While his defense isn’t what it needs to be to perform at the NBA level yet, he was a very good college defender as a sophomore, with excellent hands and a very good understanding of help defense. He also didn’t mind giving up his body for the team to take a charge, which is the type of attitude Razorback fans have loved in their Hogs dating back to the 1970s when legendary coach Eddie Sutton hailed taking a charge as the greatest play in basketball.

However, Razorback fans are always going to remember that Joe could have left the program after just two seasons, but he elected to postpone all that the professional life has to offer to be a Hog for one more season, one many anticipate could be a very good if not excellent season.

Fans remember that players like Ronnie Brewer and the great Corliss Williamson came back for their junior seasons when they didn’t have to, and they appreciate them just a little bit more for doing so.

When Joe spoke to the media through a Zoom teleconference Monday, he didn’t go into great detail about what went into his decision or what the key factors were.

Musselman, who took questions after Joe, didn’t elaborate either, but he did point out that he thought Joe and his family did a very good job of separating the emotional aspects of the decision, and made it about business. You can read as much or as little in that as you want.

Regardless Joe, who admitted he’s dreamed of playing in the NBA since he was a kid, opted to remain at Arkansas for another year, and he is planning to make the most of it for himself, his teammates and Razorback fans, too.

As a veteran of the SEC wars along with Desi Sills and Ethan Henderson, he said he was ready and willing to take a leadership role with the team, but added that in Musselman’s system there’s room for every player to be a leader in their own way.

The 6-5, 180-pound shooting guard is one of eight members of the team that hail from Arkansas, which is the largest amount of home-grown talent on an Arkansas team in recent memory. Joe said he and the others take pride in that and they all share a bond going back years when they competed with and against each other in AAU ball as well as in school.

However, that in no way slights the squad’s other seven players who have transferred into the program and are seeking to find success as Razorbacks, just like Darrel Walker, Alvin Robertson, Joe Kleine, Todd Day, Lee Mayberry, Oliver Miller, and Patrick Beverley to name a few.

Even without Joe, this appeared to be a Razorback team that had the chance to be ranked and possibly earn a very good seed in the NCAA Tournament, if the coronavirus allows the tournament to return next spring.

However, with Joe back, the Razorbacks have even more clout and will almost certainly be ranked when the preseason polls are released this fall. Some would argue in this day of advanced statistics that the human polls don’t mean a lot.

That might be so when the NCAA Selection Committee gets down to business, but it is outstanding publicity for a program that has been all-too mediocre for the better part of two decades.

Joe is a legitimate All-SEC-type performer. With a great season, he might be in line for SEC MVP consideration and possibly even All American honors. That’s the type of accolades that can come to the best player on a nationally ranked team.

Realistically, Joe and the Hogs have a lot of work to do before something like that could happen, but with Arkansas being ranked as they most certainly will be, it’s in the realm of possibility whether it happens are not.

Over the last two decades, we’ve heard more than a few very good, even great Razorback players talk about helping return the program to a place of prominence in college basketball. We’ve seen teams bubble up and be very close to accomplishing that but not quite making it for whatever the reasons may be.

Joe’s return for his junior year along with the talent Musselman has stockpiled through recruiting a mixture of freshmen and experienced players through the transfer portal makes me believe the Razorbacks are in line for a renaissance of Hog Ball in the near future.

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