FAYETTEVILLE - It didn’t happen overnight and still hasn’t entirely happened in the same game.
But it did happen. The three junior college transfers and the redshirted transfer from the University of Colorado that Arkansas coach Mike Anderson so counted upon to blend with his returning Razorbacks vastly to improve on last season’s 16-16 team indeed have blended.
Juco transfer guards Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon, especially, but also 6-8 transfer forwards Arlando Cook from junior college and Dustin Thomas, redshirted at Arkansas last season upon transferring from Colorado, not only have blended but sometimes led while in spurts. Also, 6-6 freshman forward Adrio Bailey also has contributed to Anderson’s returning core guys — senior All-SEC center Moses Kingsley, senior guards Dusty Hannahs and Manny Watkins and junior guard Anton Beard and junior forward/center Trey Thompson.
The process proceeded like Anderson believed it would over time and with the same guys perhaps being heroes one game and zeros the next but with enough depth usually to compensate for a couple of them struggling. So, for example, they could celebrate Macon, the Little Rock Parkview alum via Holmes (Miss.) Community College, scoring 30 leading a 98-80 victory over Ole Miss and still thrive with Macon only scoring three during last Saturday’s 85-67 victory over Georgia.
"It really speaks volumes," Anderson said postgame of winning big over Georgia with the team’s second-leading scorer scoring but three points. "Because there are going to be nights when one guy may not have it going on, but some other guys may have it going on. It speaks that there are some other guys on this team that contribute in a big way."
And that should take the pressure off of Macon feeling pressure to score Friday night whether Arkansas’ Friday night opponent is Ole Miss or the Rebels’ Thursday night opponent which is the winner of of Wednesday’s bottom seeds game between Auburn and Missouri.
"We know he’s a scorer and we need Daryl to score," Anderson said. "But it’s not like it’s life or death if he doesn’t score and that’s a good thing."
Especially since early on Macon was the newcomer on whom the Razorbacks most depended while the overall progress of newcomers and returnees blending, "always has been bits and pieces," Anderson said.
"I thought Daryl early on got a little quicker acclimated than some of the other guys," Anderson said. "I thought it was a hit and miss with Cook (suffering a facial injury that for a spell required him wearing a protective mask) He had a good game against Texas. You could see he was picking up some traction there. Dustin Thomas, I think his has been up and down. But now he’s playing with a sense of urgency. He’s stabilizing on the other side of Moses. Jaylen has been a steady progression."
Barford, last season junior college player of the year, wields the hottest hand recently. During Arkansas winning five of its last six, Barford has scored 23, 15, 16, 20, 18 and 15, and played " fearless, tenacious defense," teammate Watkins said.
Other than committing six turnovers while scoring 23 against South Carolina, Barford hasn’t committed more than three turnovers those last six games with just one miscue against both Texas A&M and Auburn.
"He’s always been a guy who can score, get to the free throw line and the basket," Anderson said. "But he was turning the ball over, but now he’s a calming force out there. He’s a guy who can take over a game in several different ways."
None of the newcomers could contribute so much were it not for those here who came before them.
"To me the credit goes to the core guys," Anderson said. "Those guys have continued to do what they do and get better at it. So I think that’s the thing that has kind of kept us stabilized a little bit until those guys came on. A lot of moving parts and now those parts are moving in the right direction."