Regardless of how this season turns out, Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson and Razorback fans should have a lot of hope entering next season.
That’s because the Razorbacks’ four early signees - junior college transfers Jaylen Barford (6-5, 210), Daryl Macon (6-4, 180) and Arlando Cook (6-9, 215) as well as prep star Adrio Bailey (6-8, 205) - have all exploded out of the gate this season.
“That’s going to be a tremendous class and those guys are playing at a high level,” Anderson said at his press conference on Wednesday. “…The thing I like about all these guys is they’ve all got big time motors. Big time motors, I mean they play with and edge.”
Anderson harkened back to some of the stars of last season’s 27-9 NCAA Tournament team to compare the 2016 signees.
“You know if you recall our teams they always played with that edge,” Anderson said. “Michael Qualls, Bobby Portis, Alandise Harris any of those guys that played. like Ky Madden, they all played with an edge. And so we're trying to bring in those types of guys.”
With four seniors and at least one other scholarship open, Anderson knew he needed to get some older players signed.
“Yeah we got four seniors on this group right here,” Anderson said. “We’ve got a scholarship open so it makes sense that we’ve got to get some maturity to come in here along with the guys that are already here. And I think it’s going to end up hopefully being a good mesh together, a good group.”
Obviously the Razorback staff is still looking to add at least one and maybe a couple of players.
"We're still looking, I mean we're still recruiting right now,” Anderson said. “So that could be you know maybe one, two, who knows. A lot of things take place throughout the course of the year. But as I taught our guys, you never stop recruiting and that’s always been my motto...never stop recruiting.”
Barford, the nation’s top junior college player, is leading the nation in scoring at 27.3 points per game for Motlow, Tenn., State and also averaging 7.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 3 steals per game.
He is hitting 60.9 percent (143-of-235) of his field goal attempts, 37.3 percent of his 3-pointers (22-of-59) and 80.4 percent (74-of-92) from the free throw line for Motlow (12-2).
Barford had 30 points, 13 rebounds, 6 steals and 5 assists in the Bucks’ 103-60 win over the Martin Methodist College JV team.
“Jaylen Barford with Motlow, I mean he's probably one of the leading scorers I think in JUCO at this point in time,” Anderson said. “But more importantly he also one of the top assist guys. He's a guy that can share the basketball.
“So he's playing at a high level. He leads his team. That’s what I like about him is he just takes command of the floor. But he's having a tremendous year up until this point.”
Barford was named the National Junior College Player of the Week the first two weeks of the season.
“Jaylen has been a great asset to us, not only on the court but off the court as well," Motlow head coach J.T. Burton said. "He has adapted to our system very well. I look forward to coaching him this season and watching him continue to grow as a person."
Macon, the former Little Rock Parkview star, is also pouring in the points and ranked second nationally in scoring for Holmes, Miss., Community College (7-0), who plays at Northwest Mississippi Community College on Thursday night.
He is averaging 26.3 points per game, 4.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists while shooting 50.5 percent overall (50-of-99), 41.9 percent from 3-point range (18-of-43) and 85.7 percent (66-of-77) from the charity stripe.
He has also been named the National Junior College Player of the Week this season and recently had a 40-point game.
“Macon is having a phenomenal year,” Anderson said. “He had one game I think he had close to 40, 45 points something like that. And his team’s winning.”
Anderson made a point that while Barford and Macon are the nation’s top two scorers in the junior college ranks, it is not the only way they are leading their teams.
“I think they're not only scoring, but their teams are winning so these guys are impact players and they're playing some pretty competitive ball and we're looking forward to those guys getting on our campus,” Anderson said.
Cook is averaging 15.2 points and 11 rebounds - 14th best in the country - for a Connors State squad that is 10-1 and averaging 97.3 points per game and ranked in the top five nationally.
“When you talk about Cook, Arlando Cook, at Connors, I think they're one of the top rated teams in the country in JUCO,” Anderson said. “And he's a guy that probably will get a few triple-doubles because he can score, he's real skilled.”
Cook averaged 11.4 points and 9.3 rebounds last season.
Connors State head coach Bill Muse notes that Cook is bigger and better this season.
“He will fit in Mike Anderson’s system very well,” Muse said. “He finds a way to score and can run all day.”
Bailey, the lone high school signee so far, is averaging 16.2 points, 12.3 rebounds, 2.7 blocks and 1.5 steals per game.
He opened his senior season with a 24-point, 19-rebound, 5-assist, 3-steal and 2-block effort and has put up a double-double in five of his team’s six games so far this season.
Anderson believes these are guys will bring excitement to the program.
“I think it’s a good group of guys that want to be here,” Anderson said. “They want to be in a Razorback uniform and I think they're going to really excite. They excite me, I know they're going excite the fans.”
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El Dorado junior center and Arkansas 2017 commit Daniel Gafford (6-10, 220) and fellow hunior Czar Perry (6-1, 165) led the Wildcats (6-0) to the Rumble On The Ridge championship over Thanksgiving weekend in Forrest City.
Gafford had 36 points, 14 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals and 2 assists with 7 dunks in El Dorado’s 102-85 win over host Forrest City.
“You can’t say enough about him and he is still a work in progress because he didn’t start playing until his eighth-grade year,” El Dorado head coach Gary Simmons told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette after the wiin. “He’s still learning, loves the game, so athletic and runs the floor so well.”
Perry had a game-high 35 points and was named the MVP of the event after averaging 26 points per game in the Wildcats’ three wins.
“He runs the show for us,” Simmons said. “He really gets Daniel going and like the night before they really doubled and tripled Daniel and the guards decided it was going to be their night.
The 102 points was a new tournament record for the Rumble on the Ridge.
El Dorado - who plays in Bentonville Thursday and Friday in the Crabtree Invitational - downed Hoover, Ala., 76-62 on Thursday and then routed East Poinsett County 82-49 on Friday.
"We're kind of a special group at times," Simmons said. "We have four guards and a fifth one that can come off the bench that can break you [down] off the dribble. When you've got that and got your 6-10 just sitting back, waiting on his time and not forcing anything, we're playing a lot like a team."