NBA Draft proof that Hog Hoops is building momentum

Arkansas guard Jordan Walsh (13) and Troy guard Nelson Phillips fight for a rebound during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Monday, Nov. 28, 2022, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

I’m not sure how many of you are aficionados of “Classic Rock,” but if you are, then the theme of Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman’s media conference on Monday might have reminded you of the old Bachman-Turner Overdrive hit “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” like it did me.

Musselman was still basking in the glow of last Thursday’s NBA Draft in which three of his Razorbacks were selected, making it the best draft for the Razorbacks since 1992 when four of Nolan Richardson’s Hogs were drafted.

While Musselman has extensive NBA experience on his resume, it was the first time he had ever attended the draft in person. Musselman, who has done and seen a ton in his career, said that there’s few things a person gets to experience for the first time at 56 years old, and the draft was his.

Muss had to be bursting with pride for his former pupils Anthony Black, who became only the third Razorback to be drafted as high as sixth in the NBA Draft. Only Sidney Moncrief who went fifth in 1979 and Joe Kleine who went sixth in 1985 have been drafted as high or higher. Black has been credited with being one of the smartest if not the smartest players in the draft. His future is as bright as it can be.

Nick Smith Jr. next went to the Charlotte Hornets with the 27th pick. That’s not where Smith or anyone else thought he would be selected this time last year when he was rated the No. 1 college recruit in the nation, but no one can predict injuries. The Hornets got a steal. Smith has lottery talent, and the mentally tough young man no doubt has his mind set on proving it.

Jordan Walsh was taken 38th in the second round by Sacramento but a deal set him to a championship contender in the Boston Celtics. That’s a great place for Walsh to land.

Like Ricky Council the IV, who signed a free-agent deal with Philadelphia, Musselman said Walsh is going to spend time in the the G League to further develop his skills.

That’s just the nature of things today when a rookie goes to a championship-caliber franchise like the Celtics. Even Moses Moody spent time in the G League as a Golden State lottery pick. Better to learn, develop, and compete in the G League than waste away at the end of the bench.

“It’s great for a program when one player gets drafted, let alone when you have a lottery pick, a first-round pick and then an early second-round pick,” Musselman said. “Then you add in the fact that all three were one-and-dones.”

Anthony Black (left) and Nick Smith Jr. (right) stand with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver after being selected No. 6 and No. 27 (respectively) in the NBA Draft on Thursday, June 22, 2023. (NBA)

Where those young men were drafted and the opportunity that they now have is a tremendous advertisement for the the Razorback program that cannot be bought. It is real and tangible. It’s not just a witty, catchy slogan.It’s proof positive that a young man’s hoop dreams can come true at the University of Arkansas.

It even points to the fact that being a part of Musselman’s program could give you a leg up, even if you need to go the free-agent route like Council.

That’s powerful stuff and Musselman and his staff absolutely know how to capitalize on it.

Here’s another bit that I love about Musselman and his staff. While Muss and his family were in Brooklyn for the draft to support Black and Smith, Razorback assistant coach Keith Smart was in Dallas with Walsh and his family.

That says a lot about Smart and Muss’ program in general. The Razorback staff supports their guys, and that no doubt extends to the other players as well. That’s a strong message to send to the parents and families of recruits.

While some great talent is exiting the program, Muss believes this is only the launching pad for his program.

That knowledge, that kind of aspiration has to be sweet, sweet music to ears of every Hog Hoops fan who hears it.

Two Elite Eight appearances and a Sweet 16 in the last three years isn’t quite scaling the mountain, but it is heady stuff for a program that struggled to make the NCAA Tournament during 15 plus seasons between Nolan Richardson’s removal as head coach and Muss’ arrival in Fayetteville.

What’s interesting about the results for Razorbacks in last week’s draft when compared to the 1992 draft in which four Hogs — Todd Day, Oliver Miller, Lee Mayberry, and Isaiah “Butch” Morris — were taken is that Richardson believed that the success and notoriety achieved by those players and their teams set the table for his 1994 national championship. They built momentum for what was to come.

I think Muss is feeling a similar momentum within his Razorback program. As Frank Sinatra once crooned, “The Best Is Yet to Come,” from Musselman’s vantage point.