UA camp notebook: Hogs wrap week 2 as Muss takes look at new point-forward option

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LITTLE ROCK — Eric Musselman has guided his Arkansas Razorbacks through two weeks of training camp, and more indicators that the Hogs could be in line for a special season in 2020-21 are emerging from the performance center in Fayetteville.

— Star guard Isaiah Joe announced Saturday that he was withdrawing from the 2020 NBA Draft to return for his junior season. Though he’s been absent from training camp participation since it began on July 20, Joe is expected to be back on the court with his Hog teammates soon. Joe immediately makes this big, long, and talented Arkansas team better at both ends of the floor, but his veteran leadership may be as big of an asset as anything else he brings to the table. He and fellow junior guard Desi Sills, whose leadership so far in camp has been acknowledged by sources, are going to set the tone for a team that looks deserving of its inclusion in many of the way-too-early Top 25 rankings that have surfaced in recent weeks.

— Juniors JD Notae (6-1 guard) and Abayomi “Baybe” Iyiola (6-8 forward) — they both redshirted last season after transferring to Arkansas — have been absent from the entirety of camp due to injuries, according to a media release issued Thursday by the Hogs’ basketball program. Notae has an injured left wrist and is expected to be out 2-3 weeks, while Iyiola has a torn ACL in his right knee and is expected to be out five to six months, although a source confirmed earlier last week that he could potentially return as soon as December just ahead of SEC play. Notae is epxcted to play a key role for the Hogs in 2020-21, so getting him back sometime in August bodes well for him and the team.

— Sources confirmed that senior Vance Jackson, Jr., (6-9, 238) spent some time playing point-forward for the Hogs in camp. It’s a role that former Hog, 2019-20 Co-SEC Player of the Year, and the league’s leading scorer Mason Jones played last season for the Hogs, and with Jackson getting some looks as the trigger-man for the offense it validates early reports that Jackson has been a versatile offensive weapon thus far in camp. Imagine the matchup nightmare for opposing teams if Jackson, with his size and skill set, can offer meaningful minutes in a playmaking role for the Hogs once the regular season gets underway.

— Adding to the Jackson update, a source shared that he and senior Justin Smith (6-7, 230) have “really played well together as forwards.” This is important because even though both bring some perimeter ability (Jackson moreso offensively, and Smith moreso defensively), both will also be counted on to provide some punch on the glass for an Arkansas team that was glaringly small on the frontline last season en route to being the worst rebounding team in the SEC.

— Sources continue to praise Arkansas’ freshmen who made up ESPN’s national No. 5 recruiting class in 2020. Collectively, the foursome of Arkansans — Moses MoodyKhalen “KK” RobinsonJaylin Williams, and Davonte “Devo” Davis — so far has proven able to keep up with the terminology and pace of practice, and their skill and floor IQ continue to impress onlookers.

— Senior Jalen Tate (6-6) and Robinson have played well running the team at the point guard position, according to a source. Tate’s length, slashing ability, and defensive prowess look to be a timely injection into the lineup following the departure of Jimmy Whitt, Jr., who had fringe all-league production and impact for the Hogs as a grad-transfer senior last season. Robinson’s burst and feel at the 1-spot, as well as his shooting, have stood out.

— Versatile big men. Arkansas simply didn’t have them last season, but that’s about to change. Sources confirmed Connor Vanover (7-3 stretch-5) had a good week of camp. Last season, Vanover was not a “wow” guy during drill work but he raised his play during live, full-contact, competitive work. He did that in the Red-White game at Barnhill Arena, and he did it again during practices open to the media. In other words, look for him to show more once Arkansas eventually phases into significant competitive action in practice (a.k.a. when it matters most). Sources also confirmed that Williams (6-10, 245) has impressed with his face-up shooting and passing, which comes as no surprise given his skill set and talent, but for it to be translating in the company of high-major veteran frontline players this early in camp is noteworthy.

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