FAYETTEVILLE — Rather than the old Abbott and Costello comic baseball routine of ‘Who’s on First,” it’s “Who Are You?” when Arkansas coach Mike Anderson puts his basketball Razorbacks through the paces of their NCAA allotted limited summer practices.
“Obviously, we are probably going to need name tags,” Anderson said during the recent annual summer SEC basketball coaches and media teleconference. “We’ve got seven freshmen that are coming in and a junior college transfer, Mason Jones, coming in. So, a lot of changeover.”
It’s a big challenge but a refreshing one, Anderson said, birthing a team so new with six seniors departed from last season’s team, plus underclassman guards C.J. Jones and Darious Hall opting to transfer.
“It’s a team that’s going to have a lot of newcomers,” Anderson said. “That’s exciting, especially for a coaching staff. We’ve got a lot of freshness.”
To cushion the blow of losing All-SEC guards Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon and four-year starter Anton Beard and forwards Trey Thompson, Arlando Cook and Dustin Thomas (Thomas was dismissed from the team before last season’s end), the newcomers must blend quickly with obvious team star Daniel Gafford, the sophomore center from El Dorado, junior forward Adrio Bailey, sophomore forward Gabe Osabuohien and Jalen Harris, a now eligible sophomore guard, practicing with the Razorbacks last season as a redshirting transfer from the University of New Mexico.
Guard Khalil Garland of Little Rock Parkview also returns but still hasn’t had a full contact practice and won’t unless medically cleared from a condition that forbid him from practicing last season and maintains his freshman eligibility for 2018-2019.
“Everybody reported for the first summer session, and we have had the opportunity to work with these guys in individual workouts for four hours a week,” Anderson said. “So far, so good. It should be an exciting group to work with, and we will continue to work with them throughout the summer.”
The newcomers include Jones, a 6-foot-5 forward, transferring as a sophomore from Connors (Oklahoma) State Junior College, and four freshman guards: Isaiah Joe, 6-foot-2, Fort Smith Northside; Desi Sills, 6-foot-2, Jonesboro; Keyshawn Embery, 6-foot-2, Oklahoma City; and Jordan Phillips, 6-foot-5 Arlington, Texas and freshman forwards Ethan Henderson, 6-foot-8 Little Rock Parkview and Reggie Chaney, 6-foot-7 Frisco, Texas via IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
“The thing with this young group here with this team, I see a sense of bond-ship,” Anderson said. “These guys are really trying to get on the same page. One thing that stands out, they are competitive. They are competing against each other already. That’s a good sign.”
With Beard, Barford, Macon, Hall and Jones all gone, anybody assuming leadership command in the backcourt?
“I think in time we’ll see that,” Anderson said.
In the meantime, Gafford, called by Anderson “the center piece” and not just because of the 6-foot-11 sophomore’s center/power forward position, fills a verbal void.
“Not necessarily to my surprise but Daniel Gafford is one of those guys that’s talking,” Anderson said. “And, a guy I think that will end up being one of those leaders is Adrio Bailey. A guy that’s been here for a little while. I think Adrio is going to be a factor on this basketball team. He’s had the opportunity to go to two (NCAA) tournaments and play in those tournaments. He’s going to have to use his experience to help these guys get through the tough times. Because obviously through the season there’s going to be a lot of ups and downs.”
Bailey has experienced those in two years.
“The thing I love about Adrio, he is showing them what it takes for the work ethic you have to have to come in each and every day to try to get better,” Anderson said. “To me, he’s doing it by example and I think he’s doing it vocally, as well.”
Osabuohien was Arkansas’ least heralded recruit fit in as a key role playing forward complementing Gafford up front and Barford and Macon in the backcourt down the SEC stretch.
“Gabe Osabuohien stepped up late in the season,” Anderson said.