By Kevin McPherson
LITTLE ROCK — Battling against the 3rd-ranked Purdue Boilermakers on Saturday at jam-packed Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville, even if it was only a charity-exhibition matchup, offered more value than just a worthy measuring stick for the No. 14 Arkansas Razorbacks.
It was an opportunity for 11 high school prospects — at least a handful of them are Hog targets, and 10 are in-state players — a chance to see the Razorbacks in their high-major-college-game atmosphere that was fully charged and electric for a contest between two Top 15-ranked teams that went into overtime and ultimately resulted in the Hoop Hogs prevailing, 81-77.
The pre-game recruits-in-the-house-at-BWA list was headlined by 2024 Arkansas commit and national Top 50 / 4-star prospect Jalen Shelley (6-8 combo forward, Link Academy in Branson, Mo.), who plans to ink his national letter of intent during the November early signing period (Nov. 8-15).
“I will be in attendance today!” was Shelley’s confirmation text to Hogville on Saturday morning.
He was to be joined by these 10 in-state hoopers …
– 2025 Hog offer and national Top 50 / 4-star prospect Terrion Burgess (6-9 combo forward, Benton)
– 2025 Hog offer and national Top 50 / 4-star Isaiah Sealy (6-6 guard, Springdale)
– 2026 Hog offer and national Top 30 / 4-star Aidan Chronister (6-7 wing, Rogers)
– 2026 Hog interest Jordan Harris (6-7 wing / small forward, Maumelle)
– 2026 Hog interest Anthony Hester (6-5 wing, Little Rock Mills)
– 2026 Hog interest Tristan Jahnke (6-7 small forward, Joe T. Robinson)
– 2026 Hog interest Micah Moore (5-9 guard, Joe T. Robinson)
– 2026 Hog interest Ladaryl Robinson (6-7 forward, Marion)
– 2025 Hog interest Marcus Britt Jr. (6-3 guard, Forrest City)
– 2026 Hog interest DJ Hudson (6-7 forward, Fayetteville)
Chronister, who also attended Arkansas’ Red/White Showcase intra-squad scrimmage on Oct. 4 at Barnhill Arena, was thoroughly impressed.
“Arkansas vs Purdue was a great matchup,” Chronister said. “It was fun to see Bud Walton sold out. My favorite parts were the key mid-range shots to put Arkansas up during the end of the game, and Brazile’s fastbreak dunk. It was an honor to be invited back to campus and I enjoyed the experience.
“I really appreciated the invite from Coach Musselman. Arkansas has some of the best college fans, and Bud Walton has a great atmosphere. What also stood out was the Hogs’ defense. They collapsed in the paint and eliminated the drive. It’s going to be fun to watch them this year, and I wish them the best.”
Harris had previously visited Arkansas in recent months, and he made no attempt to hide his future college preference.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the Arkansas vs. Purdue basketball game,” Harris said. “The game was very exciting. The crowd was very involved, and you could get hyped just from being around them. It was a very good atmosphere all around.
“I can not wait for the opportunity to one day represent my home state and play for the Arkansas Razorbacks. WOO PIG SOOIE!!!”
With such a large contigent of in-state prospects courtside to watch the game and soak up the atmosphere, it was also noteworthy that of the 10 Razorbacks who competed all three in-state players — senior guard Davonte “Devo” Davis of Jacksonville, sophomore wing Joseph Pinion of Morrilton, and freshman guard Layden Blocker of Little Rock — from Arkansas’ 2023-24 roster contributed to the win, combining for 8 points, 5 assists, 3 steals, and 2 rebounds in a collective 35 minutes.
Does seeing that in-state dynamic play out in such a competitive game offer glimpses of potential opportunities for up-and-coming in-state prospects?
“Yes of course …” Harris said.
Blocker’s role and production (6 points on 3-of-4 field goals plus 1 assist in 8 minutes) caught Chronister’s attention as well.
“Layden looked good out there and played well,” Chronister said. “He’s put in the work and has been competing during practice at UA and even at a high level at Sunrise Christian previously. He’s going to be a big asset for Arkansas and will be fun to follow these next few years.
“As a recruit, it’s definitely encouraging to see a program where freshman have an opportunity to contribute. I am going to keep working and hope I can contribute early as well.”
Expectedly, it was fourth-year veteran Davis who garnered most of the playing time (22 minutes) among the trio of Arkansans as both Pinion and Blocker are still underclassmen on a team loaded with veteran, Division 1-experienced players.
Which brings up another aspect of what recruits could be (should be) paying attention to while observing the landscapes of their desired next-step destinations (high-major-college and the NBA): How the journey of developing, learning, acclimating, and maturing as a collective process can lead to earning meaningful roles and playing time at the next levels.
It’s a reality Musselman addressed during his zoom press conference on Wednesday when he was specifically asked about the two true freshmen on his current roster — Blocker and center Baye Fall.
“I think that there’s always an adjustment for freshmen across the country, especially in our league, just like there’s an adjustment in the NBA,” Musselman said. “You look at some NBA rookies, and they’re playing a lot. And then you look at some other NBA rookies, and they’re not playing a lot. You look at some NBA rookies, and they’re assigned to G-League teams, and other NBA rookies are learning by sitting on the bench and watching, getting better during practice and growing.
“So, I think every player is on his own timeline, and every organization in the NBA is on their own timeline, and just like every college program, there’s a different timeline. The one thing with both of our freshmen and all six of our freshmen last year, that whole group of guys have been incredible workers. Baye and Layden have great competitive nature and really, really work on their craft. They work in the weight room, so they’re going to keep getting better as the season progresses.”
In an era of high transfer rates, partly due to young players expecting immediate significant roles and playing time, there can still be value in a more deliberate process that prepares a player for those opportunities before throwing them to the wolves, so to speak.
“I think when you’re on a good team, or deep team, there are pluses and then there are areas where a player has to continue to learn and grow in,” Musselman said. “Practices, game preps and all those things are obviously new for any freshman. It’s no different than all of our rookies in the NBA. The game preps they are going through are going to be slightly different than the way they were done at Arkansas because there are so many more games coming at you. For us, we want all of our guys to try and continue to get better every single day.”
For the Razorbacks’ double-digit group of prospect onlookers on Saturday, the chance to be part of a one-of-a-kind October experience offered more than the bells and whistles of two high-profile teams slugging it out in a packed house. There were valuable lessons to fan the flames of dreams while also levying some reality related to reasonable future expectations transitioning from one level of basketball to another.