Hoop Hogs could have their biggest draft night since 1992

Arkansas’ Anthony Black (0) shoots next to Kentucky’s Chris Livingston (24) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Lexington, Ky., Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023. Arkansas won 88-73. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

Thursday will be a huge day for as many as four Arkansas Razorback basketball players when the NBA holds its annual draft.

Anthony Black of Duncanville, Texas, is expected to be drafted among the first 10 picks, Nick Smith Jr. of Jacksonville is expected to be taken within the second 10 picks of the first round, Jordan Walsh of Desoto, Texas, could be an early second-round pick, and Ricky Council IV of Durham, N.C. is projected to be a later second-round pick.

The NBA Draft will be televised on ABC and ESPN at 7 p.m. (Central) Thursday from the Barclays Center in New York.

ESPN reported on June 13 that Black and Smith were among the 19 players invited to the NBA Draft, who will have the opportunity to wait in the Green Room to hear their name called.

The Morning Rush on KAKS/KUOA 99.5/95.3 AM reported that Razorback head basketball coach Eric Musselman would be attending the draft.

Perhaps Musselman will be interviewed as part of the selection show. He’d be a great subject with his extensive professional and collegiate experience. Face time on that broadcast would push the Razorback banner in front of millions of viewers and likely some prospective recruits.

If all four are selected, it will be the biggest draft day for the Hogs since 1992 when a record four Hogs were selected in the draft.

Nolan Richardson recruits Todd Day (8th pick by Milwaukee), Oliver Miller (22nd pick by Phoenix), Lee Mayberry (23rd pick by Milwaukee), and Isaiah “Butch” Morris (37th pick by Miami in the second round) were the draftees in 1992. Though none turned out to be NBA stars, Day, Miller, and Mayberry all had their shining moments in professional ball.

Three Razorbacks — Scott Hastings (2nd round to New York), Tony Brown (4th round to New Jersey), and Keith Peterson (8th round to Dallas) — were also selected in the 1982, and three in 1979 — Sidney Moncrief (1st round to Milwaukee with the 5th pick), Steve Schall (5th round to San Antonio), and Marvin Delph (6th round to Boston).

However, Moncrief, who is the Razorback taken earliest in the Draft, is the only one of those six who would make the cut under the NBA’s current two-round format. The NBA reduced its draft to two rounds in 1989.

Arkansas guard Nick Smith Jr. (3) looks to pass as Texas A&M guard Dexter Dennis (0) defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament, Friday, March 10, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/John Amis)

As a Hog follower, Thursday is going to be bitter-sweet.

It’s exciting that those four young men have such an incredible opportunity in front of them, and I certainly wish them all the success they can earn from their talent and skills as they move on as professionals.

But there is a part of me that would have liked to see them return for another season.

Anthony Black may have the best all-around game of any Razorback since Lee Mayberry. Now, Mayberry was a much better shooter, but both were floor generals who could make high-level plays on both ends of the floor. Black is a much longer and taller player than the 6-2 Mayberry. Two very different players, but they approached both ends of the floor with talent and gusto.

Had Black opted to play longer for Arkansas, he might have elevated himself into the conversation with Moncrief, Ron Brewer Sr., Darrel Walker, Alvin Robertson, and Mayberry as great two-way Razorback guards in the history of the program. Black’s sample size was just too small to consider him with those other players, but the potential was there. I think we’ll enjoy watching him in the NBA for a long time.

Smith showed glimpses — limited as they were by his knee injury — of having the kinetic and energetic impact on games with his offensive skills that were similar to Brewer Sr. and Day, who could fill it up from the outside or drive to the basket to dunk or to draw a foul. But unfortunately, Hog fans saw even less of him than they did of Black because of his knee.

I know Smith didn’t have the kind of season he or anyone else expected because of the injury, but I think it showed a lot of love for his teammates and the Razorback program for him to rehab his knee and come back and play as much as he could. He could have sat back and just worked on getting ready for the draft, but he busted his tail to return to play for the Hogs. I’ll always remember and respect Smith for that.

They will get guaranteed contracts as first-round picks if they are selected where projected. Black is expected by most projections to go around eighth. Smith is projected to go late in the first 20 picks.

Arkansas guard Ricky Council IV (1) goes up for a slam dunk against Auburn during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Second-round NBA contracts aren’t guaranteed. Wherever Walsh and Council are drafted, they will have to make their team.

Walsh reportedly had an excellent showing at the NBA combine and in private workouts with various teams. No doubt, his best basketball is ahead of him.

Walsh has good size and better quickness, but I’m not sure his ball-handling skills are advanced enough to play small forward, and I’m not sure he has the size and strength to handle taller and bigger NBA athletes at the four spot. He has the attitude and instincts to be a pest on defense, but as a “tweener,” he probably needs to be in the right situation.

Council was a decent shooter, and an excellent dribble driver on the college level. He has uncommon athletic ability in the college game, but among NBA-level athletes, his athletic talent isn’t as unique. To make a squad, Council may have to shift his focus to defense. Become a Patrick Beverly of sorts.

Could Walsh and Council have improved by playing another season at Arkansas?

There is no doubt.

The fan in me wishes they had opted to return for another season, but when you see the injuries that their teammates Smith and Trevon Brazile suffered through last season and the uncertainty of their situations, you can see why Walsh and Council want to get started on their professional careers as quickly as possible.

It’s a huge advantage for all four of them to have played in Musselman’s system, which probably mimics the NBA as closely as any other college program because of Muss’ extensive experience in pro basketball at all levels.

Knowing what to expect — even a little bit — could be the advantage that pushes each one of these former Razorbacks further in their pro careers.