FAYETTEVILLE — Daniel Gafford didn’t declare for the NBA draft but the El Dorado native and University of Arkansas sophomore star 6-foot-11 center spends a summer playing against NBA talent.
Literally, NBA talent practicing some this summer in Fayetteville against Bobby Portis, the 6-foot-11 former Razorbacks All-American and third-year Chicago Bulls forward and later this summer to practice against the collegiate elite at the Nike Camp.
“I think with Daniel, he’s working extremely hard this summer,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said on Thursday’s annual SEC basketball coaches’ summer teleconference. “He even had a chance to work with Bobby. Bobby came up and worked with him a little bit. I just think it bodes well for us.”
The Nike Camp awaits Gafford at summer’s end,” Anderson said. “Gafford certainly will be invited to the Nike camp. That’s one of those prestige camps that takes place in August. They bring in like the Top 20 or 30. They bring in the top three or four at each position, and he gets the chance to go against some of the best talent in the country. I think Bobby did the same thing before his sophomore year.”
Off that camp, Portis put together a sophomore season so sensational that he was named SEC Player of the Year and became the Bulls’ first-round draft choice.
“What that (Nike Camp) does is give you the opportunity to see where you are amongst some of the best players in the country and the chance to work out with some NBA guys,” Anderson said. “It will be a great opportunity. Between the work that he is putting in here on campus in the gym every day and then have the opportunity to go out and participate in the Nike Academy.”
Aside from playing against the best, it may be even more important for Gafford continuing to make himself stronger, evolving from the skinny high school star to last year’s stronger but still comparatively thin college big man to a true collegiate bent on pro built power forward/center.
“Daniel’s got to put on about 15 more pounds and continue to play at that high, high level,” Anderson said. “He’s got to be able to step away from the basket. But, I think just the part of it… They got a chance to see the strength, the quickness that you’ve got to play with now.
So, now, can we go and get in that weight room? Can we continue to go every against the type of competition?”
With last year’s large senior class of guards Jaylen Barford, Daryl Macon, Anton Beard, and forwards Trey Thompson and Dustin Thomas (Thomas was dismissed late-season from the 2017-2018 team all departed) Gafford is taking a more vocal, role, too, Anderson said.
“Daniel Gafford is one of those guys that’s talking,” Anderson said of filling an experienced leadership void, returning two-year letterman junior forward Adrio Bailey as the team’s oldest player in terms of service.
Much as he says he hates playing against Gafford, returning to college when they could have been high draft pick players like Gafford and South Carolina’s Chris Silva make the SEC the basketball standout league it asserted itself to be last season, South Carolina coach Frank Martin said on Thursday’s teleconference.
“Our league is the toughest in the country because of guys like Gafford and Chris Silva coming back,” Martin said. “It’s huge. Gafford is a bonafide first time pick. You see the joy and energy he plays with. I root for kids like him. He’s a lot like Chris Silva. It’s fun to be around people like that.”
Arkansas’ turnover is such, only Gafford, Bailey and sophomore forward Gabe Osabuohien return as scholarship lettermen, that redshirt freshman guard Khalil Garland of Little Rock Parkview fills a summer leadership role though he still hasn’t been cleared to practice with the Hogs from the medical condition sidelining him all last season.
“It’s amazing that I think Khalil is trying to take a lead in that even though he hasn’t played yet,” Anderson said. “He’ll be a redshirt freshman, but he has taken that lead as well as Jalen Harris (a sophomore guard redshirted last season at Arkansas as a transfer from the University of New Mexico, lettering as a 2016-2017 freshman.
Garland has done some shooting and skills drills, but Khalil hasn’t been cleared for full practice yet.”