By Kevin McPherson

LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Razorbacks’ highly regarded freshmen tandem of [b]Anthony Black[/b] and [b]Jordan Walsh[/b] no longer have to wait until the early part of 2023 for a return to their home state. As it turns out, their first tango back in Texas is coming up next month.

The men’s basketball program announced on Tuesday that the team will travel to Austin, Texas, for an Oct. 29 charity exhibition game against the Texas Longhorns (3 p.m. CT, Longhorn Network), who will debut as hosts in the newly minted 15,000-seat Moody Center.

The matchup expedites the homecomings for Black (6-7 guard, Duncanville, Texas) and Walsh (6-7 combo forward, DeSoto, Texas), who will return to the Lone Star State twice more with the Razorbacks for games during the regular season — against Baylor in Waco, Texas, on Jan. 28 in the Big 12 / SEC Challenge, and against Texas A&M in College Station, Texas, on Feb. 15 in SEC league play.

Multiple opportunities to compete against fellow Texans who are now ‘Horns, Bears, and Aggies in front of fanbases that are familiar with both Black and Walsh should serve as extra motivation for the two freshmen.

A day prior to the public release of the Texas exhibition game, Black and Walsh were not only on the floor with their Razorbacks teammates for the first full practice of the 2022-23 season, but they were among the many topics of discussion as Head Hog Eric Musselman and transfers Ricky Council IV and Trevon Brazile answered questions put forth by the media.

“He’s an awesome young man,” Musselman said when asked about Black. “I think everybody in the program, the way that he respects everyone, the way he treats everyone, he’s got a great demeanor about himself. You can often sit back and watch how a player treats a graduate assistant, an assistant coach, a trainer, a strength coach, an equipment manager, an assistant equipment manager, an assistant trainer, he’s just got a great disposition about himself. We as a coaching staff probably need to be even harder on him. Sometimes he’s so likable that it’s a little more problematic to get on him when he might need us to based on just … he’s an easy guy to be around.”

Black was a national Top 15 / 5-star prospect last year in the class of 2022, and he’s currently projected as a first-round lottery pick in some 2023 NBA mock drafts. He was the last of the Hoop Hogs’ six 2022 high school commitments as he signed his national letter of intent in the spring, and he went on to show promise at the McDonald’s All American game, the Iverson Classic all star game, the U17 FIBA Americas Cup as he led Team USA in every important statistical category outside of scoring on the way to a perfect record and a gold medal, and most recently the CP3 Elite Guard Camp where one NBA scout came away convinced Black was the best NBA prospect who competed.

“The whole recruiting process with him and his Mom and (Duncanville High School) Coach Peavy and his brother, it was about as easy as (any player I’ve recruited),” Musselman said. “When I say easy, not that it wasn’t extremely competitive with other programs, but easy in the fact that it’s really fun and easy to recruit someone who you enjoy being around their inner circle and their family, and certainly we felt that way from the beginning dealing with Anthony and his family.”

Black’s busy spring and summer also included his contributions to Arkansas’ 4-0 run through a European exhibition-game tour in August as he averaged a team-high-matching 4.0 assists with a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio, 6.3 points, 4.0 rebounds (tied for 4th on the team), and 1.5 steals while shooting 41.4% from the field, including 1-of-4 from 3 (25%).

His court awareness in both transition and halfcourt offense plus his vision to see over and through tight spaces makes for an elite combination. Set-up dimes on side-out-of-bounds plays, diagonal and skip passes to shooters, back-door dimes to cutters, lob passes to dunkers, and downcourt passes over the defense in transition were just a few of the tricks that Black pulled out of his passing bag in Europe. Pushing 6-8, sturdy, and athletic with deceptive burst, Black is a powerful finisher at the rim in transition as well as both on- and off-ball halfcourt offensive scenarios. Defensively, he’s active and versatile with plus-instincts regarding how to best use his athleticism and big frame.

“I would say on the court, it’s crazy playing with a guy of that length — he’s 6-7, 6-8, whatever you want to call him — he plays guard, he plays point guard, so that’s just crazy to have someone out there like that,” Brazile said of Black. “Catches lobs on the backside, like a wing. It’s just crazy to play with somebody that versatile on the court. Then off the court, great personality. I got really close with him on the foreign tour. Just a great kid, great personality.”

Council was just as complimentary of Black with his assessment.

“Probably going to be one of the more athletic point guards in the country this year,” Council said. “Can score, can facilitate really well at his young age, so it’s really fun. Then off the court, he’s a cool guy. We’ve actually been hanging out a lot lately and he’s cool.”

Walsh was quickly identified by Brazile as one of the top three-point shooters on the team who will be counted on to help a Hoop Hogs squad that struggled shooting from distance in Europe.

“I would say definitely Jordan Walsh,” Brazile offered when asked about who other than freshman Nick Smith, Jr., brings value as a three-point shooter. “You guys have seen him, he hit that fadeaway (in Europe). That was a tough shot to hit. He can definitely hit big-time shots. He’s a big-time three-point shooter. So, in the season we’ll definitely be looking to him for three-point shots.”

Council agreed that Walsh will factor into the equation if the Hogs are to mount a credible three-point-shooting attack.

Walsh was a national Top 15 / 5-star prospect last year in the class of 2022, and he’s had both first- and second-round selection projections in several 2023 NBA mock drafts. He was a 2022 McDonald’s All American and Jordan Brand Classic all star following a stellar senior high school season in ’21-22 during which he led Link Academy (Mo.) to the Geico high school national championship game.

Almost immediately upon arriving on campus, Walsh’s impact in pick-up games competing against Pro Hogs inside the Razorbacks’ basketball performance center caused several of those Pro Hogs to declare Walsh “looks like a pro.”

“It’s so cool that not only does Jordan go to school here, but so does his brother Joshua,” Musselman told Hogville.net. “It’s been great getting to know them and bonding with the Walsh family.”

Looking back on the aforementioned four-game Euro tour, Walsh was more productive across the board in the first two games that were played in Spain (10.5 points on 50% field goal shooting, 6.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.5 steals) before struggling a bit once the team played its final two games in Italy. He finished the tour averaging 5.8 points (31.0% field goals, including 1-of-8 from 3 for 12.5%, and 4-of-6 free throws for 66.7%), 4.0 rebounds, 2.0 steals, 1.3 assists, and 2.3 turnovers per contest.

Musselman gave his post-Euro-tour assessment of Walsh.

“Jordan is such a great athlete,” Musselman said. “He’s tried to improve from his performance over in the four games overseas. He’s continued, like a lot of young guys, to try to get better with each passing day.”

Standing 6-7 with a 7-3 wingspan and at 200 pounds, Walsh has a freakishly elite package of length and quick-explosive bounce to go along with plus flexibility and wicked long strides that make him a one-man, coast-to-coast transition phenom.

Those physical and athletic gifts combined with Walsh’s instincts and competitive determination made him arguably the most versatile defender in the nation at the high school level — he guarded all 5 positions at a high level as Musselman once described him as a “violent defender” — and though it’s yet to be determined how quickly that translates to the high-major Division 1 level it’s not unreasonable to think as a 3/4-combo forward that he’ll be able to defend multiple positions in year one.

Offensively, Walsh can be an elite transition finisher (both primary and secondary fast break) as he’s a constant threat to dunk a lob pass, whether in fast-break opportunities or in the halfcourt, and he’s an effective slasher to the cup when he puts the ball on the deck to drive. One of the staples of his game in high school was finishing off tough drives through contact even when he was not playing above the rim. He’s a good passer in both transition and half-court sets.

Black and Walsh have another month to further develop and improve, and regardless of how much they move the needle in that regard it remains likely if not certain that the freshmen Texans will figure into Arkansas’ Top 7-8 rotation, which means both will be looked upon to show well as rookie Hoop Hogs when they return home for three games this season in the Lone Star State.

And it all starts at Texas next month at the new home of the long-time rival Longhorns in a game that’s for charity and doesn’t even count or matter (wink wink!).

“That Texas game is going to be great for Jordan’s family and for Anthony’s family,” Musselman said of the fast-approaching Lone Star State homecoming.