Trajectory for Hoop Hogs continues to rise

Louisville guard Mike James (1) guards against Arkansas guard Anthony Black (0) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Monday, Nov. 21, 2022, in Lahaina, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

It was a big night Thursday in Brooklyn for four former Arkansas Razorback basketball players, and for their coach Eric Musselman’s program at the NBA Draft.

Anthony Black and Nick Smith were selected in the first round by the Orlando Magic with the sixth pick and the Charlotte Hornets with the 27th pick, respectively. The Sacramento Kings drafted Jordan Walsh in the second round with the 38th pick. Ricky Council IV went undrafted, but before the clock struck midnight, he had agreed to a two-way deal with the Philadelphia 76ers.

It’s clear NBA teams respect the program Musselman has built and is building at Arkansas, the type of talent he recruits, and the way he develops players.

Selfishly I wish the quartet had spent some more time as Razorbacks, but who can begrudge any of them from attempting to make the most of their opportunities, right now.

Thursday was first time three Hogs have been selected in the NBA draft since 1992 when four Razorbacks were picked. Todd Day (8th pick by Milwaukee, Oliver Miller (22nd pick by Phoenix), and Lee Mayberry (23rd pick by Milwaukee) were all first-round selections in 1992, and Isaiah “Butch” Morris (37th pick by Miami) went in the second round.

Some might quibble that had Smith and Walsh returned for another season, they could have improved their draft status, maybe even substantially.

That’s possible, but then again as the old proverb goes, “A bird in the hand is worth more than two in the bush.”

Having two Razorback drafted in the first round, one in the second, and another get a solid free-agent opportunity is tremendous ammunition for Musselman to utilize in recruiting. The draft results Thursday night along with the fact that Musselman has had at least one player drafted after all four of his seasons as the Razorbacks’ head coach is proof that his program can be a launching pad to the next level for his players.

It’s also a message that there is room for more than one star or super star on campus. Had Smith been healthy last season, it’s very likely he would have joined Black as a lottery pick.

Thinking back to that 1992 draft when Day, Miller, Mayberry, and Morris were all selected, it’s pretty clear that their success as Razorbacks was influential in helping Arkansas head coach Nolan Richardson and his staff attract the recruits who would come together to win a national title in 1994 and advance to the title game again in 1995.

Arkansas guard Nick Smith Jr. (3) drives around Oklahoma guard Milos Uzan (12) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022, in Tulsa, Okla. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Maybe someday we will look back and see that the seeds planted On the Hill by Black, Smith, Walsh as well as Council germinated into something greater than they were able to accomplish in their single year as Razorbacks?

Muss has guided the Razorbacks to two Elite Eights and one Sweet 16 appearance in just four years with at Arkansas. I don’t think that’s the ceiling for the program he is constructing.

Maybe I’m fooling myself, but I think there is a Final Four for the Razorbacks in the near future under Muss, and maybe more.

Now, that might be just me wearing my Razorback-red colored glasses in the summer heat, but Muss’ program is rising at a similar trajectory as Nolan’s was back in the early 1990s.

I believe the best is yet to come for Musselman’s Hogs, and Thursday night’s draft was billboard material for his program that if a talented player comes to Arkansas, he will have a great opportunity to make his NBA hoop dreams come true.