FAYETTEVILLE — If the Razorbacks, and perhaps even Daniel Gafford himself, are lucky, the 6-11 freshman will play ball in Arkansas next season as a sophomore in Fayetteville.
He would be getting stronger and learning to become less foul prone while honing his craft for what eventually appears will lead to a long, productive NBA career.
Then again there are games like Saturday night’s Arkansas’ 72-54 SEC victory over Vanderbilt at Walton Arena when it seems El Dorado native Gafford could take a flight tonight and immediately play in the NBA.
Even as Arkansas senior guard Daryl Macon (21 points) matched 20 points or better for a seventh consecutive game and senior guard Jaylen Barford, 16 points, most righted the Razorbacks’ first-half ship, Gafford stood above all to Vandy’s Bryce Drew. The Commodores coach marveled that in 24 minutes Gafford officially blocked seven shots, unofficially altered countless others grabbed nine rebounds, made two steals and scored 16 points including a late game windmill dunk thrilling those sticking around even out the score out of hand.
“Gafford I thought was the big difference in the game, not just his scoring and rebounding but his rim-protecting,” Drew volunteered. “He took away a lot of easy baskets from us.
“He was ranked the 37th best player in the country coming in for reason and he showed it tonigh. He impacted the game on both ends and he has great length. He moves really well and shot the ball well tonight. He is going to be a special player here.”
“ He was everywhere,” said UA coach Mike Anderson. “And the beauty of it was that he only played 24 minutes. That tells you how efficient he was tonight. He was active on defense and his energy was contagious on our basketball team. I mean, seven blocked shots. He blocked one shot and down on the other end, dunking it. Reminds me of a guy we had, Derek Hood (a Razorbacks Hall of Honor forward who played for Nolan Richardson when Anderson was an assistant) could do that. He could block a shot and be down there that fast.”
Burned by 3-point shots in recent road losses at Texas A&M and LSU, LSU’s Tigers hit 15 of 30 treys over Arkansas, the Hogs were determined not to be 3-point by a Vandy team that hit sprees of threes scoring 81 points every game its last four games.
The Commodores hit but 3 of 26 3s as Arkansas made them drive themselves into discomfort.
When the Commodores drove, Gafford was the traffic cop closing their road.
“We try to make them drive and I have to protect the basket,” Gafford said. “ I had it on my mind that I was going to send out everything that comes in. They tell me that before very game. ‘Whatever comes in, just throw it out.'”
Gafford certainly wasn’t bashful finishing his the game is already won fast break with the windmill slam. How soon on the break did he know he’d windmill the finish with a flourish?
“I really didn’t even know,” Gafford said. “I just went up and In my mind I thought the guy behind me was going to jump with me and I was going to dunk it then but I saw the wide open lane and my eyes got …
Macon, seated next to Gafford at the media platform, laughed while interrupting: “You are going to sit there and tell me that you had no intentions … you could see it from halfcourt that he was going to try something. It wasn’t a close game so he was going try something whether he missed it or not. I don’t know why he said that.”
“We’ll let Macon bacon finish,” Gafford said.