By Kevin McPherson
LITTLE ROCK — Head Hog Eric Musselman had never dipped into the transfer portal without winning the pledge of a backcourt gem in his first three recruiting cycles at Arkansas, but it looked like a possibility back in the spring after he loaded up the roster with four transfer big men in the span of a week.
Maybe it was inconceivable to Musselman that he would put a bow on his 2022 recruiting class without plucking a guard or a wing from the portal, especially knowing what transfer treasures Jimmy Whitt, Jr. (2019), JD Notae (2019), Jalen Tate (2020), Au’Diese Toney (2021), and Stanley Umude (2021) brought to his Arkansas program as guards or small-ball 3/4-combos.
Musselman put an end to any suspense in late April / early May when he fast-track recruited and landed one of the most gifted and athletic wings from the American Athletic Conference — Wichita State transfer Ricky Council IV, who since moving to campus in late May has already shown the wisdom in Musselman’s decision to pursue him as the capper to the Hogs’ unprecedented 11-player recruiting haul in 2022.
Within hours of getting inside the Razorbacks’ basketball performance center, Council (6-6, 205, junior, native of Durham, N.C.) posted to his Instagram account a couple of otherworldly dunks. Soon afterward, a few Council aerial highlights from Arkansas’ early limited practices made their way to Twitter.
It all quickly swelled into excited anticipation by his teammates, coaches, and the Hogs’ fanbase.
Included in that mix of new Council fans was (is) former Arkansas star and All SEC performer Michael Qualls, who’s dunk dynasty as a Hog (2012-13 through ’14-15) made him a fixture on ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays and arguably the fiercest rim-duster in program history.
“I’ve seen him (dunk) on one video on Twitter, it was crazy,” Qualls told Hogville.net in a recent interview.
If any former Hog comes to mind as a comparison to Council, it’s Qualls. Both in the 6-5 / 6-6 range, both with plus-wingspan, both explosive leapers, and both with kamikaze mentalities as thrill-seeking dunkers with little regard for defenders who dare to step into their paths.
Matt Zimmerman — former Arkansas assistant coach when Qualls was a Hog and current color analyst during Razorback game radio broadcasts — sees the comparisons.
“They’re both strong, and both so explosive,” Zimmerman said. “So you’ve got explosion, and you’ve got strength at the same time. Both of them are mad at the rim, they’re trying to take frustrations out on the rim. They’re so aggressive to the basket. They’re so similar.”
Zimmerman was handling the Hogs’ color analysis during FloHoops.com‘s livestream coverage of the team’s four-game European exhibition tour earlier this month, and he along with anyone else who was tuned in got to see Council put together the most consistent efforts among Arkansas’ deep wing personnel options.
He was a consistent double-figure scorer (third on the team with 10.8 points per game on 50% field goals, including 2-of-6 for 33.3% from 3, and 11-of-16 for 68.8% at the free throw line) and dependable rebounder (second on the team with 5.5 boards per outing) while also averaging 2.0 assists, 1.3 steals, and 2.3 turnovers per contest.
A confident and competent downhill driver with a quick first step, Council actually has an array of close-range finishing skill (including using the glass) when he’s not able to power up for a memorable slam. He scored a bit from the mid-range as well in Europe, and he knocked down a single triple in each of the Hogs’ first two wins in Spain (second on the team in made three-pointers). His work on the boards stood out as he used his strength, leaping ability, and instincts to win multiple blue-collar battles on the glass. Defensively, he was active and showed improvement throughout the event, often using his strength, athleticism, and quickness to blow up drives, get deflections, or contest to affect shot attempts.
Council looked regular-season game-ready for the most part, enough to think he’s safely in Musselman’s Top 7-8 rotation, and that makes sense given he comes in with two seasons of all-league D1 basketball on his resume.
In two campaigns at Wichita State he earned AAC Sixth Man of the Year honors in ’21-22 after being named to the AAC all freshman team in ’20-21. Due to the NCAA’s extra-year-of-eligibility exception resulting from the covid-19 pandemic, he still has three years to play in college.
Council started 7 of the 28 games he played in during the ’21-22 season as a Shocker, averaging 12.0 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 1.1 steals in 26.6 minutes per game while shooting 43.7% field goals, including 30.6% from 3, and 84.9% from the free throw line.
Council had nine games of scoring 17 or more points last season, including three games of reaching at least 20 points. His career high of 31 points was scored in an 84-79 home win over Central Florida on Jan. 26, 2022.
In his first season at Wichita State in ’20-21, Council helped the Shockers qualify for the NCAA tournament as an 11-seed in the First Four play-in game. He averaged 7.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.0 assist in ’20-21.
Council was teammates at WSU for one season with former Arkansas forward Trey Wade, who completed his college career with the Hogs last season after transferring from WSU following the ’20-21 campaign.