By Kevin McPherson
FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas Razorbacks will officially wrap up their limited summer practices on Wednesday, and Head Hog Eric Musselman and three of his players addressed the media on Tuesday inside Bud Walton Arena to give a recap of the work the team did in June and July.
Musselman was joined inside BWA’s media room by a trio of veteran transfer guards in El Ellis, Jeremiah Davenport, and Tramon Mark, all of whom will be making their Arkansas debuts in the upcoming 2023-24 season.
– The Friday, July 28, announcement by Southern Miss transfer Denijay Harris (6-6 forward) that he had joined the Arkansas program combined with the news reported a week earlier that Washington transfer Keyon Menifield, Jr. (6-1 guard) would be a non-scholarship redshirt, it brought to total 16 players on the team’s ’23-24 roster: 13 on scholarship (all are expected to be available to compete in the upcoming season), one non-scholarship redshirt, and two traditional walk-ons.
– In our Hogville deep-dive analysis piece published on Saturday, July 29 (linked here: https://forums.hogville.net/index.php?topic=756969.0), we made the point that Musselman just signed his biggest transfer class since arriving at Arkansas (seven players out of the portal), and with their collective 21 years of Division 1 playing experience combined with the five Hog returnees’ collective 14 years of D1 playing experience, it means that Arkansas’ roster will boast a total of 35 years competing against D1 competition entering the ’23-24 campaign.
Musselman had plenty to say about his team’s depth of veterans and experience.
“I think every year’s different, it’s really helped to have the returners back, meaning Devo and Jalen Graham and Cade (Arbogast) and Lawson (Blake) and Joseph (Pinion), it’s helped,” Musselman said. “We have a little bit more returners than we’ve had. Then obviously with the experience that we have with guys like El Ellis, Davenport. (Trevon) Brazile‘s helped a lot on the side. He still hasn’t jumped in with us full-go. But having returners along with veterans who have played a lot of college basketball games, T-Mark comes from a great program at Houston. So you get a guy like T-Mark, who’s played for such a great coach in Kelvin Sampson, he understands how to work hard, he understands expectations.
“It’s different with experience. You can do things a little bit differently and then we have more returners than we did in the past, as well. So we’ve been able to accelerate some of our schemes. But there’s no comparison ever of teams other than the fact that what can this group execute and then move on to the next step or maybe a different phase. We’ve got in a lot more right now than we have in the past four years and I think it’s a combination of a whole bunch of things.”
Mark likes the mix of veteran returnees and newcomers.
“The group we have a lot of older guys plus returning some guys from last year on the team that have been helping us as well,” Mark said. “I feel we have a nice jell of older guys and young guys. So I feel like everyone is adjusting well.”
Musselman views his fifth Hog squad as mature and coachable.
“When I come home at night, I tell Danielle all the time there’s not as much coaching frustration,” he said. “In reality, we’ve had one bad practice the whole summer and then we’ve had a couple that we’d like the energy a little bit better, but I would say for the most part… And again, we’re doing execution, we’re doing teaching, we’re doing 5-on-0 skeleton, dry-run type stuff. In no way, shape or form have we even come close to a rotation. Roles are being formulated in the coaching staff and probably in the players’ minds I’m sure that the players are forming opinions of teammates and forming maybe who they trust or formulating who could be a go-to guy, and I use that term very loosely, like who could be, because that’s all going to evolve and develop.
“Really coachable group. I’ll give you an example. El Ellis was really quiet, was doing what he should do as an individual. I don’t know if I’ve seen a player change so quickly in his leadership, his verbal command of the floor. Been really cool to see in a very short period of time. And then other guys. Like Jalen Graham’s practice habits are dramatically different than last year. Dramatically. He’s done an incredible job of understanding expectations and then following through on his part. So there’s been some evolving even this summer, but that’s been one thing that’s really been cool to see, is Graham’s evolution and how El has really picked up what our expectations are and how we try to conduct practice and how talking and verbalization is really important on the court for us.”
– Musselman is pleased with what he’s seen from true freshmen Layden Blocker (6-2 guard) and Baye Fall (6-10 forward / center).
“Baye got here a little bit later than some of the other guys,” Musselman said. “He’s a very, very hard worker. Spends a lot of time on his own. Surprisingly can make 3s at a much higher clip. Gotta continue to work on hands — catching the ball in traffic is an area that we want to continue to work with him on. Because he’s a freshman, he’s going to be playing a little bit of catch-up on understanding as we add stuff. Again, he came late, so I think anybody that isn’t here when some of the foundation stuff has been put in, you’re playing catch up, and certainly he falls into that.
“Layden has a really mature approach to how he conducts. I don’t know if I’ve ever been around a player his age who comes in pre-practice and goes to the weight room and starts stretching and getting himself mentally ready to practice. So, he’s mature beyond what his age is, and he’s a good leader on the floor. He’s got point guard characteristics for sure.”
– The Head Hog addressed the upcoming redshirt season for Menifield.
“I think one of the non-benefits of the way the transfer portal is right now as I look back at the transfers we’ve had that have sat out,” Musselman said. “I’ll use Cody and Caleb Martin as an example. I thought it was the best thing for their longevity of their career, and that has proven the case with how they are playing at the NBA level. Keyon is super, super talented.
“Pat Ackerman, who was on staff here, watched our practice and talked about, ‘Wow, he is a special talent.’ That’s what the year has to be about is how can he get better? How can he gain weight and how can he gain strength? Certainly we’ve got a pretty good player on scout team.”
– Musselman raved on and on about Mark’s and senior returnee Davonte “Devo” Davis‘ defensive prowess.
“T-Mark, you’re talking about a guy that started on a team that was ranked No. 1 for most of the year,” Musselman said. “So that alone speaks volumes. Houston, one of the toughest teams physically. One of the best defensive teams every year. One of the most disciplined coaches, so T-Mark got all of that. I think he’s a very underrated offensive player from the way that he’s improved his game in a short few months. I think he’s a player that defensively, him and Davonte “Devo” Davis together are going to be really good. Devo has taken on the challenge, even as a freshman, to guard the opposing team’s best player regardless of if that player plays the 1, 2 or the 3.
“Oftentimes, Devo is assigned to the power forward if need be. Now, he’s got another partner to try to contain. It’s really hard, man. When you assign a guy the best player on the other team and he’s holding that guy under his average and the bulk of the plays are run at you and you’re fighting off screens, you’re on an island on isolations. What Devo has done defensively is insane. He really only had one game last year where I felt like the offensive player (did better). That means he won 29 battles and he was basically 29-1 in his individual battles. I think T-Mark can do that same thing for us. Let’s face it, in college basketball, premiere scorers are usually the point guard, off-guard or small forward, with the exception of certain teams. Mississippi State is going to throw the ball into Tolu Smith and you’ve got a big, but for the most part if you generalize 1, 2 and 3 and now we’ve got two of those three positions that are incredible defenders from an individual standpoint.”
– The three transfer guards at the podium fielding media questions on Tuesday represent 75% of the Hogs’ available backcourt portal prizes, and each weighed in with admiration when asked about the lone transfer guard who was not at the presser — uber-talented Temple transfer Khalif Battle.
“I can say a little bit about him too because he was in the same conference as me and Tramon as well,” Davenport said. “He can shoot. He can really shoot the ball off the dribble, coming off screens … His ability to finish and dunk the ball on people at his size is very unique. He’s just a tough, big guard.”
Of Battle, Mark said: “He’s definitely a tough matchup for any guard that’s guarding him. Very shifty, can shoot the ball off the dribble, catch and shoot, can get to the rim. On the other end, he can guard you as well, so he’s just a tough matchup for any guard. He’s real good.
Ellis and Davenport went further to speak on Battle’s confidence.
“He has that Jersey mentality, just a different swagger,” Ellis said. “That’s all he ever talks about.”
“Them Jersey people different,” Davenport added.
Battle (6-5 guard) led Temple in scoring averaging 17.9 points to go with 3.6 rebounds, and 1.8 assists in 32.2 minutes per game while shooting 41.0% field goals, including 35.0% from 3, and 89.8% free throws in ’22-23. He scored 24 or more points in 5 of his last 6 games at Temple, and he scored 20-plus-points in 13 games last season.
A volume and efficient three-point shooter — he averaged 2.9 triple makes per game at a 37.3% clip in his last two seasons at Temple — Battle is most effective as a spot-up shooter from distance, but as verified by his new Hog teammates he also packages an effective drive-and-slash game when he’s run off the three-point line.
– Describing his own game, fifth-year senior and Cincinnati transfer Davenport began with his biggest strength on offense.
“With me I feel like I can bring a lot of shooting to the team,” he said. “I can really shoot the ball. I can really make plays for my teammates. I’m versatile. I can be in the post, a high energy guy. Just an all-round big guard as you can see.”
Davenport hit just more than 200 triples at a near-35% clip in his four seasons as a Bearcat.
* Razorbacks recruiting
– Arkansas hosted highly regarded 2024 in-state target K. Annor Boateng (6-5 wing, Little Rock Central, 17U Arkansas Hawks, On3.com‘s national No. 9 / 5-star prospect) on an official visit on Friday, July 28, and Boateng came away impressed (for more on his thoughts on the visit and other teams in the mix in his recruitment, click the link to our Hogville article published on Sunday, July 30: https://forums.hogville.net/index.php?topic=756934.0). Boateng and his 17U Arkansas Hawks’ teammate — 2025 Hog target Terrion Burgess (6-9 combo forward, Benton, 247Sports national No. 27 / 4-star prospect) — are planning to take part in the Adidas All American Camp in greater Los Angeles starting today (Aug. 1-2).
– Source: 2026 Hog offer JaShawn “JJ” Andrews (6-5 guard, Little Rock Christian Academy, ESPN national No. 25 / 4-star prospect), 2025 Hog offer Isaiah Sealy (6-6 guard, Springdale, ESPN national No. 43 / 4-star prospect), and 2026 Jordan Harris (6-7 forward, Maumelle) are among a handful of high school players who will attend Arkansas practice on Tuesday.
– 2025 4-star prospect Jordan Lowery (6-2 guard, Winston Salem, N.C.) confirmed with Hogville that he’ll take an unofficial visit to Arkansas on Wednesday, Aug. 2. “I love the conference, I love how hard they’re (Hog coaches) recruiting me, and how they prepare guys for the next level,” Lowery said. “(It) all stands out to me!”
* Arkansas’ ’23-24 schedule continues to take shape
The Monday, July 31, announcement that the Razorbacks will play Oklahoma at a neutral-site (the BOK Center in Tulsa on Dec. 9) for a third consecutive season — effectively the rubber match between the schools as the Sooners won in ’21-22 and the Hogs won in ’22-23 — marked the latest update to Arkansas’ slate of games in the upcoming season.
Here’s everything that has been confirmed or reported so far …
Seven non-conference home games at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville …
– Alcorn State on Nov. 6
– Gardner-Webb on Nov. 10
– Old Dominion on Nov. 13
– North Carolina-Greensboro on Nov. 17
– Duke on Nov. 29 in first-ever ACC/SEC Challenge
– Abilene Christian on Dec. 21
– North Carolina-Wilmington on Dec. 30
Five non-conference neutral-site games
– Three in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament (November 22-24) in The Bahamas … specific opponents and tourney brackets have not been announced yet, but the other teams in the field are Memphis, Michigan, North Carolina, Northern Iowa, Stanford, Texas Tech, and Villanova.
– ACC / SEC Challenge: Arkansas will host Duke at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023, in the first-ever ACC / SEC Challenge as part of the 2023-24 schedule.
– Oklahoma at a neutral site (Tulsa) on Dec. 9
– Lipscomb at a neutral site (North Little Rock) on Dec. 16
Eighteen SEC games
– The Razorbacks will play five teams both home and away against Kentucky, Georgia, LSU, Missouri, and Texas A&M. The latter three teams are part of the Hogs’ permanent annual home-and-away series play. The Hogs and ‘Cats will be playing home-and-away for a second consecutive season, but only for the third time since Arkansas joined the SEC for the 1991-92 season.
– Arkansas will additionally host Auburn, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt once each while traveling to Alabama, Florida, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State for single games. The Hogs will host the Vols without playing a road game in Knoxville for the first time since the ’17-18 season. Arkansas also faces a fifth consecutive season playing at Alabama — going back to the ’19-20 campaign — with only two home games in the same span that were part of home-and-away series play.
– Times, dates, and television information for league games will be announced at a later date.
Regarding the SEC’s lopsided Arkansas scheduling against Tennessee and Alabama in terms of the Hogs playing mostly on the road against those teams spanning the last five seasons, Musselman on Tuesday discussed the lack of balance in league scheduling and how that impacts competing for league titles.
“Every coach, every program has their own philosophy on things,” Musselman said. “In the NBA, it’s an 82-game schedule and you play everybody equally. You play your conference a certain amount of games, you play the other conference home and away. At Nevada, we had a balanced schedule [in conference]. Winning the league carried a lot of weight.
“When you have an imbalanced schedule, strength of schedule matters, and who you play and where you play them and what time of the year you play them matters. We had a much higher goal at Nevada to win the conference based on how the schedule was set up. Here, I don’t know how to determine…it’s really hard to determine who the best team is, because not everybody’s schedule is equal. Our goal is how do we get better in March? How do we advance in the tournament? That’s always going to be our goal, because of what you said. I can tell you a lot of restaurants in certain cities and then there’s other cities in our league that I have no idea of one restaurant based on how often or how little we’ve visited them.”
Musselman also shared his thoughts on the Purdue and Duke home tilts.
“I think, one, Purdue, that game in particular, they had a choice probably of doing that game with a lot of people,” Musselman said. “I think that Coach Painter and his staff understand that Bud Walton is a unique place to play, and I’m really hopeful that our fans across the state understand the significance of getting a team like this for an exhibition. There’s not a lot of exhibition games that are being played against Division I teams, so we’re doing something unique. We’re doing something … you’re putting it all out there really quickly. You’re auditioning in front of a lot of people. There’s a little bit more opinions that are going to be formed during that game, after that game, than if you play a Division II team. Credit to Purdue for being willing to play a road game. Credit to them to be willing to play a quality opponent, and same thing from us. They’ve proven a lot more than we have with who they have coming back.
“And then the Duke game, look, Bud Walton was going to be sold out regardless of what our schedule looked like across the board. But, the fours years I’ve been here, I would anticipate that the Duke game is going to be like when we played Kentucky and Auburn and they’ve been ranked very high. I know the requests that I’ve gotten from friends … I was talking to Phil Nevin last night, the Angels manager. He’s coming to that game. There’s a lot of people that want to come to that particular game, too. If you look at our schedule with the three Bahamas games at the Battle 4 Atlantis, then look at Oklahoma, then look at Duke, that’s going to be five as challenging games as this program has ever played [in] non-conference. We’ll figure out ways to get better after playing those five games, too, because we’re going to find some holes in our team, for sure, with a lot of new guys playing that quality of an opponent. We know Duke will come in here 1, 2 or 3 as well. Between the Purdue game and the Duke game, we’ll probably play two of the top three teams in the country in a four-week span.”
* Pro Hog events
– Reminder that former Arkansas star and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Isaiah Joe will host his first “Shooters Shoot” Camp on Saturday, August 12, at the Summerwood Sports complex in Alexander, AR (registration info linked here: https://isaiahjoe.com/).