Red-White game tonight has more importance than usual for Hoop Hogs

LITTLE ROCK — by Kevin McPherson
Dress rehearsal. Glorified practice. Green light to run, shoot, dunk, and light up the scoreboard like a pinball machine while playing matador defense.  You get the picture: These events — a.k.a intrasquad basketball scrimmages — are typically meant to be light and fun for players, fans, and coaches alike.
That’s still the case for these brand-new 2018-19 Arkansas Razorbacks, but tonight’s Red-White game at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville probably carries a little more weight than most, if for no other reason than giving Head Hog Mike Anderson a better idea of what to expect from 8 newcomers among the 11 players on scholarship who are available to play.
“This Red-White game  is maybe a little more important than others,” said Hog great and former NBA center Joe Kleine, who along with former Hog teammate Charles Balentine will serve as the celebrity coaches guiding the Red team. “Especially for the Arkansas coaches: They already know about their players in practice, but with a young team they’ll get a better idea of what they can do in a game-like setting.”
Tip-off is set for 7 p.m., and the Razorbacks will sign autographs for fans beforehand.
Following his playing days (15 years in the NBA after 3 seasons at Arkansas), Kleine served as an assistant coach for the Little Rock Trojans prior to his current role assisting the Catholic High School Rockets in Little Rock. Tonight, he’ll be getting his second chance to coach Arkansas sophomore Daniel Gafford (6-11 center, El Dorado).
Kleine spent a couple of days coaching Gafford in the spring of 2017 when Team Arkansas defeated Team Tennessee in the Mike Conley, Jr., All Star game in Memphis.
“I got to see a little of what (Gafford) could do, but not as much as I would have liked,” said Kleine. “I liked what I saw then, and you can tell they (Arkansas coaches) worked with him last year, because it wasn’t just his athleticism that stood out. His game around the basket had really improved.”
Gafford (11.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, 60.5% field-goal shooting, and 22.6 minutes in ’17-18) is projected to be a lottery pick (top 14 players of the 1st round) in the 2019 NBA Draft in June if he leaves college early. He enters the ’18-19 season with a load of expectations on his shoulders to lead a young team after helping the Hogs to their second consecutive NCAA tournament last year as a freshman. For Anderson, who has guided the program to 3 NCAATs in the past 4 years, this group presents a lot of unknowns in his 8th season as head coach.
“I can’t wait to see them, it’s exciting,” said former Hog point guard Kareem Reid, who debuted as a Razorback in 1995-96 to lead a team full of newcomers to the Sweet 16 on the heels of back-to-back national-championship-game teams. “I haven’t seen them practice yet, but will get to see them (during Thursday practice) for the first time before (Friday’s) Red-White game.”
Joining Gafford on the Red squad: Jalen Harris (6-2 point guard, transfer sophomore, Wilson, NC); Gabe Osabuohien (6-8 combo forward, sophomore, Toronto); Isaiah Joe (6-5 shooting guard / wing, freshman, Fort Smith Northside); Ibrahim “Ibby” Ali (6-10 center, freshman, Maumelle); Jonathan Holmes (5-10 guard, junior walk-on, Columbia, IL); and Emeka Obukwelu (6-8 forward, transfer junior walk-on, Plano, TX).
Former Hogs Corey Beck and Elmer Martin — they helped lead Arkansas to a Sweet 16 (1992-93), a national championship (’93-94), and a national runner-up (’94-95) — are the celebrity coaches for the White squad: Adrio Bailey (6-6 combo forward, junior, Campti, LA); Mason Jones (6-5 shooting guard / wing, juco-transfer sophomore, DeSoto, TX); Desi Sills (6-2 combo guard, freshman, Jonesboro); Ethan Henderson (6-8 forward / center, freshman, Little Rock); Keyshawn Embery-Simpson (6-3 combo guard, freshman, Midwest City, OK); Reggie Chaney (6-8 forward, freshman, Tulsa, OK); and Ty Stevens (6-2 guard, transfer sophomore walk-on, Republic, MO).
Not playing: Khalil Garland (6-5 combo guard, redshirt freshman, Little Rock) is not medically cleared to play, and  Jordan Phillips (6-7 small forward / wing, freshman, Fort Worth, TX) is recovering from injury.
Arkansas will play its first exhibition game against Tusculum next Friday (Oct. 26) at 7 p.m. at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
8 things on my radar going into the 8th Red-White game under Mike Anderson’s watch
1) Daniel Gafford, duh … you can bet all eyes inside BWA tonight will be front and center on the face of the program, a projected lottery pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, and preseason All SEC 1st Team pick during SEC media days on Wednesday … we’ve seen the uber-talented Gafford outrun speedy guards end-to-end while making breathtaking plays above the rim, but I want to see a double-double tonight from the big man … Gafford was a double-double machine as a senior in high school, but managed only 3 in 35 games in ’17-18 … looking for a stronger, seasoned Gafford to take ownership as a scorer and rebounder on a consistent basis, and he should have his way tonight … also want to see him take some mid-range shots to force defenders to guard him away from the paint … improvement at the free-throw line (52.8% in ’17-18, need I say more?) … and for dessert, I hope super-sized Dan Dunks are on the menu tonight?
2) Jalen Harris runs on rocket fuel … I’ve seen it on film, and now I want to see it live and in person … Harris has a burst that when combined with his facilitator-first mentaility at the point seems like a perfect cocktail for setting up Gafford in transition in ways we haven’t seen yet, which is scary because Gafford smashed 75 dunks last season (more than 6 SEC teams had) … Harris appears to maintain his ball-handling and passing skill at full speed, and teaming up with Gafford on the Red team tonight probably means the fireworks will start going off before everyone gets settled into their BWA seats … what I really want to see, though, is how Harris runs the team, how he promotes good spacing and ball movement, his feel and court awareness, and how he executes getting the ball inside to Gafford as timing, placement, and persistence will be critical in helping the big man eat in the paint … and, can Harris knock down the open looks when defenses lay off to help on Gafford and cover up the shooters?
3) Brand new guard corps ready to clock in and go to work? Harris is the backcourt veteran on this team though he has never played a minute as a Razorback, so just imagine that new-car smell that will be wafting through the BWA aisles and up to the rafters once Isaiah Joe, Desi Sills, Keyshawn Embery-Simpson, and Mason Jones hit the floor for the first time … I know Joe and Jones can shoot from 3, and though I want to see a healthy dose of those daggers from distance, what I’m more interested in evaluating is what they are comfortable doing in the middle game and if they can create and make good decisions without forcing the issue … also, Joe and Jones appear destined to play a lot at the 3 (in part due to injuries), wondering how much they match up against each other tonight in that capacity … I saw “dog” in their games at both ends when I watched Sills and Embery-Simpson in high school and grassroots action, but are they ready to bite at this level? In time, this group has a chance to be good defensively, and though I don’t expect that to be obvious during this Red-White game, I’ll be watching closely to see what each brings in terms of moving his feet, walling off drives, closing out on shooters, helping and rotating, communicating, etc. … also interested to see who out of the group shows signs of helping at the point as a handler and facilitator behind Harris.
4) Gabe and ‘Dro … looking to see if Osabuohien treats us to some of that jack-of-all-trades ability that he revealed as a 3/4-combo forward during his senior season at Southwest Chrisitian Academy in Little Rock when the Lions played a national schedule against quality competition … he helped Arkansas playing off the bench late in the ’17-18 SEC slate, but we never really saw him in that versatile-forward capacity last year … Anderson made some comparisons recently between Osabuohien and former Hog Coty Clarke, who so far has been the best fit as a versatile 3/4-combo forward playing for Anderson … Adrio Bailey has had a few meaningful moments in his first two seasons — against North Carolina in the NCAAT in ’16-17 and on the road against Alabama in ’17-18 are two games that come to mind — but tonight gives us a chance to see if the under-sized 4 (he’s 6-6) has improved his ball-handling and perimeter shooting … we know Bailey can run the floor, explode to the basket, and he anticipates well to get steals and block shots, but taking the next step in his development means improving ball skill, so it will be interesting to see what he’s done to grow that part of his game.
5) Size, length, athleticism, and talent in the frontcourt, finally … For six years running, Arkansas has put a stud on the floor at the 5-spot (Bobby Portis 2013-15, Moses Kingsley 2015-17, and Daniel Gafford 2017-19), but the 4-spot has not quite been up to the task of bolstering the frontline scoring, rebounding, and defensive presence to complement those worthy 5s … maybe that starts to change in ’18-19, but what will that makeover look like tonight? Will we see Reggie Chaney’s interior craft and feistiness; Ethan Henderson’s length, athleticism, and defensive versatility; and Ibby Ali’s combo of athleticism and size (6-10 with 7-4 wingspan, 244 pounds) banging inside — ALL combined with the aforementioned 3/4-combo roles of Gabe and ‘Dro? At minimum, a more athletic and versatile frontline appears ready to rotate inside with Gafford … face-up / perimeter shooting will be the biggest question mark for this group, will anyone step away from the basket and show us something tonight from the mid-range?
6) Attendance … the Red-White game is free with the donation of a canned-food item, it’s homecoming weekend in Fayetteville, you’ve got a star in Gafford who bedazzles with dunks, you’ve got football and basketball visitors on campus with several expected to be at the Red-White game, and you’ve got a winnable football game on Saturday … so I respectfully ask: Is half capacity of 19,200-seat BWA a hoop junkie’s pipe-dream? It shouldn’t be, and 10,000-plus really ought to be the minimum expectation / goal every year … I’ll be counting heads!
7) Smash out! Gafford alone has the potential for a 10-dunk night, but let me introduce you to Exhibit B: Ethan Henderson, who’s arguably the biggest leaper to put on the Hog uni in years. At 6-8 pushing 6-9, Henderson is long, lean, bouncy, and he’s quick when exploding to the rim … ‘Dro Bailey is no slouch, drawing explosive-hops comparisons to Michael Qualls when Bailey signed with Arkansas in 2016 … Reggie Chaney will run out in transition and he likes to pound them down, too … I’m not not predicting the most prolific dunk-a-thon at a Red-White game in a long time, but yeah, that’s what I think this could turn into!
8) Break-out performer(s) … outside of Gafford flapping his Superman-esque red Razorback cape, ahem jersey, as he soars through BWA airspace, there are truly no expectations for a sidekick superhero to emerge as every other Hog is auditioning for the first time to play Batman … so, who makes an early bid, if anybody? I’m not going out on any limbs on this one, and no matter who might put up big numbers it’s important to remember that it’s an intrasquad scrimmage, a glorifed practice, a dress reheasal … so have fun tonight, don’t take much if anything to the bank when it’s over, and buckle up for what appears to be a roller-coaster season just ahead.
Hogs will have 3 Top 100 official visitors from 2020 on hand, plus at least 3 more unofficial visitors

Arkansas is hosting at least 6 visitors combined from the 2020 and 2021 classes, including 3 from 2020 who are taking official visits and are ranked among the Top 100 national prospects.
The official visitors: 2020 Arkansas offer Moses Moody (6-5 shooting guard / wing, Montverde Academy in Florida by way of Little Rock, Brad Beal Elite 17U on the Nike EYBL circuit, ESPN national No. 20 / 5-star prospect); 2020 Arkanas offer Bryce Thompson (6-4 shooting guard, Tulsa Booker T. Washington, OK Run PWP 17U on the Under Armour Association circuit, ESPN national No. 45 / 4-star prospect); and 2020 Arkansas offer Matthew Murrell (6-3 combo guard, Memphis Whitehaven, Team Thad 17U on the Under Armour Association circuit, composite national No. 82 / 4-star prospect according to

Those on unofficial visits: 2020 Arkansas offer Jaylin Williams (6-9 forward / center, Fort Smith Northside, Joe Johnson Hawks on the Adidas Gauntlet circuit); 2021 Arkansas interest Jalen Ricks (6-5 combo guard, Sylvan Hills, Joe Johnson Hawks on the Adidas Gauntlet circuit); and 2021 Arkansas interest Terran Williams (6-4 wing, Barton by way of Marianna, Joe Johnson Hawks on the Adidas Gauntlet circuit).
All are expected to attend tonight’s Red-White game at Bud Walton Arena, with the exception of Terran Williams who plays football at Barton and will travel to Fayetteville on Saturday for his unofficial visit.
For more information on the 6 weekend visitors, including quotes and analysis, please click the following link to a story published last week at and …
ESPN 5-star Moses Moody headlines a big homecoming weekend …

Moses Moody was the first player from a deep and talented in-state Class of 2020 to pick up an Arkansas scholarship offer, and Moody has decided to make Arkansas his first official-visit …

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