By Kevin McPherson
LITTLE ROCK — Nobody inside the Arkansas basketball performance center attending the 45-minute window of open practice on Thursday expected to see a quiet offensive outing from talented transfer guard Khalif Battle during live, full-contact 5-on-5 scrimmaging.
And though Battle smartly was not focused on hoisting up shots and chasing points with wings Joseph Pinion and Jeremiah Davenport hotly engaged in trading daggers from distance, it did set up a “savor the flavor” anticipation for a potential Battle scoring outburst in this week’s Red/White intra-squad scrimmage (6:30 p.m. CT, Wednesday, Barnhill Arena, Fayetteville) that will give fans who attend the game (no TV or livestream) their first look at Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman’s 2023-24 Hoop Hogs.
A proven, gifted scorer at all three levels in parts of three seasons at Temple prior to transferring to Arkansas in the offseason, Battle (6-5 junior guard, native of Edison, N.J.) understands the importance of playing to his strengths while acclimating as a good, dependable teammate.
“Just keep doing what I’ve been doing,” Battle said of what he intends to bring to the Razorbacks when he spoke with Hogville on Thursday. “The team, they’ve got the utmost trust in me to be who I am. They know I score the ball at a high clip, but most importantly I’ve got to do the little things that equate to winning. So, I’m learning from them just like they’re learning from me, and everybody’s learning from Coach Muss, our leader.
“So far it’s been great. I think we’re all grabbing great things from each other, and it’s all come together well.”
Battle is likely to figure into Musselman’s Top 7-8 rotation, and he may ultimately lock down a starting role.
He led Temple in scoring last season, 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 2022-23. He scored 24 or more points in 5 of his last 6 games at Temple, and he scored 20-plus-points in 13 games in ’22-23.
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 he also packages an effective drive-and-slash game when he’s run off the three-point line.
He missed some portions of Arkansas practice in the latter stages of July workouts as well as the early stages of August/September on-court work, but three of his Hog backcourt mates had seen enough to sing his praises during a press conference in early August inside Bud Walton Arena.
“I can say a little bit about him too because he was in the same conference as me and (junior Houston-transfer) Tramon (Mark) as well,” senior Cincinnati-transfer Jeremiah 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.”
Senior Louisville-transfer guard El 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.
During the team’s 18-day break in August following limited summer practices in June and July, Battle took part as a “college counselor” in the inaugural Damian Lillard Formula Zero elite camp that included select high school stars and college players.
At the time of his commitment to Arkansas in April, Battle tweeted: “See u soon, #GoHogs.” He took his official visit to Arkansas on April 6-7.
Battle told Hogville prior to visiting the Razorbacks that he talked “to Coach Muss every day, sometimes twice a day.”
Battle began his career at Butler of the Big East as a freshman in ’19-20 before transferring to Temple of the American Athletic Conference, where he played the last three seasons.
In only seven games played as a junior in ’21-22 due to an injury, Battle averaged 21.4 points while shooting 21-of-43 from 3 for 48.8%.
His 27 games played in ’22-23 were a career-high — he played a total of only 42 games in his first three seasons — and he has career totals of 871 points, 218 rebounds, 95 assists, and 43 steals.
Arkansas has enjoyed big success under Musselman with transfers from the AAC making significant impacts — Ricky Council IV (’22-23 after transferring from Wichita State); Trey Wade (’21-22 after transferring from Wichita State); and Jimmy Whitt, Jr. (’19-20 after transferring from SMU).