LITTLE ROCK — Whether in jest or with sincerity, and this may seem random, but at some point in time everybody has taken a turn saying: “You complete me.” You know, the quotable line made famous by Tom Cruise in the movie Jerry Maguire. If Arkansas Razorbacks head coach Eric Musselman hasn’t yet uttered those three words in the direction of David Patrick it’s probably just a matter of time before he does.
Patrick, lured away from a D1 head coaching gig by Musselman on July 1 to come aboard as the new associate head coach at Arkansas, was an addition that was effectively hailed by college basketball gurus as a home run hire by the Hogs.
“Think you could argue, of any one individual thing Eric Musselman has done since getting to Arkansas, convincing a sitting HC (and killer on the recruiting trail) to come on as an assistant, might be the most impressive yet,” Fox Sports college basketball analyst Aaron Torres said.
“If talking about most important coaching additions this offseason (head coaching or assistant), I might put Arkansas coach Eric Musselman’s hiring of David Patrick in the top 5 overall,” said college hoops analyst Jeff Goodman. “Definitely top 10.”
Patrick didn’t come cheap. Replacing Chris Crutchfield (who on June 1 left Arkansas for a Division II head coaching job after one season as associate head coach), Patrick reportedly has an annual salary of $400,000 with a handsome $200,000 bonus if he’s still on the Hill after two seasons. That’s $1 million through 2020-21 and ’21-22, which approaches double what he would have made in the same span as head man at UC-Riverside.
But there are good reasons — no, great reasons — that Arkansas showed Patrick the money to get him to Fayetteville, and we’re going to break down the top 4 angles we see where Patrick can offer a hefty return-on-investment while riding shotgun on the Muss Bus.
1. Recruiting. Okay, so Musselman hit the ground running in Fayetteville after taking over the program in early April 2019 as he quickly signed five college transfers, then added three more during the 2020 recruiting cycle that Goodman rates as a national Top 10 transfer class, proving that Musselman is a master at mining players out of the transfer portal while so many coaches and programs around the country are still figuring out how to evaluate and manage the latest trend in recruiting.
Add in a national Top 5 signing class (according to ESPN) of high school recruits in 2020 — a class of four in-state talents that are all ranked in the national Top 100 prospects — and Musselman once again flexed his recruiting muscle (with a big assist from assistant coach Corey Williams, who the in-staters make sure to mention when talking about their Hog recruitment).
Most recently and before Patrick was hired, Musselman and his staff have cast a wide net with offers, virtual tours, and Zoom meetings to 5-star and high-level 4-star players around the country covering the classes of 2021, 2022, and 2023 while making the top 10 finalists for more than a handful of ’21 players.
If it looks like Hoop Hogs recruiting is teetering on breaking through as a national brand, Patrick is a proven force in prising top-shelf talent and has the chops to help the program take the next steps in recruiting.
Exhibit A is Ben Simmons, the otherwordly package of size, athleticism, playmaking, elite vision, and basketball IQ who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft after Patrick brought him to LSU for a season in ’15-16. Patrick is Simmons’ godfather — both are natives of Melbourne, Australia — but while an assistant (2012-2016) under then-LSU head coach Johnny Jones, Patrick was an integral part of recruiting classes that brought in top-shelf prospects and future pros such as Jarell Martin, Jordan Mickey, and Antonio Blakeney to name a few.
Then there was Patrick’s brief stop at TCU (2016-2018) as he joined Jamie Dixon, the former Horned Frog player who took over his alma mater in 2016 to ressurect it from the cellar of the Big 12. In two years in Fort Worth, Texas, Patrick helped the Frogs land four 4-star recruits (Jaylen Fisher, Kevin Samuel, R.J. Nembhard, and Kaden Archie) as well as Desmond Bane, who developed into one of the top players in the conference. Compare that to the lone 4-star recruit that TCU signed in the previous 10 recruiting cycles (according to 247Sports) and you get a clear picture of the fast recruiting turnaround aided by Patrick’s influence.
When you add up his six consecutive seasons as an assistant coach recruiting at the high-major level in Louisiana and Texas, Patrick offers depth of experience in two of the Hogs’ recruiting footprint states that have produced some of the best Razorbacks in the school’s storied basketball history — Oliver Miller, Scotty Thurman, Michael Qualls, and Mason Jones are four that quickly come to mind.
And the added value with Patrick is his experience and contacts in international basketball, specifically in his homeland of Australia and his involvement with Australia’s national team program. His Australia recruiting pipeline can already be felt in Arkansas as Patrick — only five days on the job with the Hogs — made his first known offer to 2021 David Okwera, a 6-11 combo forward from Melbourne. Patrick also has an established relationship with the father of another Arkansas offer from Australia — 2022 Dyson Daniels (6-5 combo guard).
Additionally, Patrick has already reached out to several 2022 in-state Hog targets in his first week on the job.
“I think No. 1, as a recruiter, the one word that pops up is just likeability,” Musselman said of Patrick during a July 1 press conference via Zoom. “My phone since the announcement, he’s so well-respected in the coaching fraternity because he’s so easy to get along with. Throughout this process, people in our program and in our athletic department that talked to him, like, he’s a likable guy, has an incredible personality and he’s got great experience and he has really, really incredible recruiting connections. He knows all the AAU people. The Australian pipeline is well documented.”
2. Familiarity. In his first-staff hiring at Arkansas, Musselman surrounded himself with people who had previously worked or played for him — Anthony Ruta, Hays Myers, Pat Ackerman, and Michael Musselman all followed him to Fayetteville from Nevada; Clay Moser who previously served under Musselman in professional and international coaching; and Earl Boykins who played for Musselman in the NBA.
Patrick and Musselman go back years as they established a friendship through basketball circles, including a season coaching together when both were on LSU’s staff as assistants in 2014-15.
Musselman’s energy and enthusiasm for the job are evident in his every endeavor, and he presents those attributes in unique ways that are probably more easily understood with buy-in from staffers who have long-established relationships with him.
Patrick checks that box for Musselman.
“Coach Patrick and I got to really know each other when he was an assistant coach at St. Mary’s,” Musselman said. “We loved sitting around talking basketball. He’s a guy that’s just a basketball junkie. Very good on the practice floor. When I got to watch him at St. Mary’s, obviously he is known as an incredible recruiter, but he’s really, really good on the floor. He’s a guy that loves individual player development. He’s just as well-rounded a coach as I’ve been around, from the recruiting aspect to the Xs and Os to game preps, practicing and individual skill development.
“Then when he was at LSU and coach Jones was looking for another coach, it was my connection to coach Patrick that introduced coach Jones and I to each other. And we got to spend a year at LSU together.”
Look, bringing in yes men or cronies for the sake of staff comfort and continuity is not necessarily a sign of strength within a program, but Patrick is so well-rounded and widely respected in the college game that the familiarity aspect of the hire is really a giant feather in the cap. Musselman has been strategic while bringing in folks he has a history with, and now Patrick is in a position to be a perfect complement sitting in the second seat on the bench.
3. Resume. Musselman effectively has brought an NBA vibe to the college game when you look under the hood of his program at Arkansas. Treating the transfer portal like NBA free agency, opponent scouting and preparation with pro level attention to detail, recruiting pitches tailored to NBA development, and assembling a Hogs staff that stands as the program’s biggest in terms of numbers and the most diverse relative to various levels of experience — all of it is a reflection of Musselman’s decades of coaching experience at all levels of basketball (pro, international, and now college).
Patrick’s resume does not come up short. NBA experience? Check (Houston Rockets scout). Division 1 head coaching experience? Check (UC-Riverside). High-major / SEC assistant coaching experience? Check (LSU and TCU). International team and recruiting experience? Check (Australia). High-major college playing experience? Check (Syracuse).
There won’t be many conversations or scenarios that Patrick can’t weigh in with experience and knowledge, and that will be invaluable on and off the floor and in recruiting.
“I think from an Xs and Os standpoint, I knew working with him what his game preps were like,” Musselman said. “He’s innovative and he’s always trying to learn. He’s an underrated coach, and I think what happened was when he went to (UC) Riverside, people saw how good he was from an Xs and Os standpoint and a gameplan standpoint. I just think he’s a really, really well-rounded coach in all aspects of the game.”
4. Opportunity. One thing that puzzled analysts was Patrick leaving a D1 coaching job where he had success — he nearly doubled UC-Riverside’s win total in 2019-20 compared to the season (’17-18) before he took over, and at 17-15 last year he got his team an invite to a postseason tournament. With his previous success as a recruiter as an assistant at the high-major level, it appeared his trajectory was aimed at a high-major head coaching gig, possibly sooner rather than later.
But by teaming up with Musselman at Arkansas — again, Patrick can nearly double his income in two seasons — he will have his best opportunity to play a significant role in assisting in a fast-track return of a once powerful pogram back to national relevance, which should also open some high-major head coaching opportunities for him.
And it’s not a one-way street. The sooner Musselman takes Arkansas to another level, the sooner the program becomes a more attractive destination for recruits and other prospective coaches. You have to go back to the Eddie Sutton era — the original architect of Arkansas becoming nationally relevant (late 1970s through the mid-1980s) — to find multiple assistant coaches who moved on to have success at other schools as head coaches.
Patrick can be the first from Musselman’s coaching tree at Arkansas to move on to a big job, which will reflect well on the health of Arkansas’s program when it happens.
However long Patrick’s tenure is at Arkansas, Musselman is glad to have him.
“Couldn’t be more excited to have him join us,” he said.