Barring a undefeated run to end the regular season or a surprise SEC Tournament title, Arkansas’ basketball team will end its two-year run of playing in the postseason this March.
While that was expected, the undermanned Razorbacks (13-14, 6-8) certainly had visions of an overachieving season and at least an NIT berth up until a brutal three-game losing streak in zapped all that momentum.
Because of that, it’s normal to look ahead to the 2016-2017 roster and wonder if the players coming into the program - of which there will be at least six - can possibly help lead the program back to the Big Dance.
One of the clear things that seems to be lacking from this season’s squad is an element of toughness - be it mental, physical or both - and players who will get after it defensively like Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson loves to have.
Arkansas Hawks AAU coach Bill Ingram has seen the current Razorbacks and the future ones and believes that is a likely scenario.
“I think what you will see is that a lot of what Arkansas is missing right now on the court will be there next season with the guys they have recruited,” Ingram said. “These are tough kids, kids that have gone through the battles, kids that carry the heavy weight. By that I mean ones that can score from end to end, ones that also get after it defensively and ones that will provide an athleticism that is not there right now.”
Those following recruiting know that the Razorbacks are bringing in three of the nation’s top five junior college players in 6-5, 210-pound point guard Jaylen Barford of Motlow, Tenn., State College, 6-4 shooting guard Daryl Macon of Holmes, Miss., Community College and 6-9, 215-pound power forward Arlando Cook of Warner, Okla., Connors State College.
They will also add in the redshirting Dustin Thomas (6-7, 225) - a former Texarkana, Texas, Pleasant Grove standout who transferred from Colorado - along with two high players in Campti, La., Lakeview forward and early signee Adrio Bailey (6-8, 205), and new spring commit C.J. Jones (6-5, 180) of Birmingham, Ala., Central Park Christian.
Barford is second in the nation in scoring at over 25.6 points per game and finished up his regular season on Saturday with 22 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds in a 99-64 win over Jackson State.
Macon - who missed eight mid-season games due to an injury - is averaging 22 points a game and just had 37 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists in a win that clinched his team a second straight division title.
“I can’t wait to see Macon and Barford in the backcourt together,” Ingram said. “They are going to be a great combination that Arkansas fans are just going to fall in love with. Daryl can knock down shots from anywhere and Barford is just a human highlight machine. He is big, strong and can absolutely leap out of the building.
“I’m not sure a lot of fans understand how good both of these kids are, but they both have a great chance to play in the league.”
Ingram has known Macon - the former Little Rock Parkview standout - the longest as he played in the Hawks organization growing up.
“I remember how really good he got playing with us as he was going into his senior season,” Ingram said. “We were playing in a game against Boo Williams Elite where the opposing guards were Emanuel Muiday - who is now the starting point guard for the Denver Nuggets - and (current Mississippi State guard) Malik Newman,” Ingram said.
“He ended up with 27 points, 9 assists and 8 rebounds and I remember (Kansas head coach) Bill Self coming up to me after the game and saying he was the best player on the floor that day. He was going to have to go to Junior College and a lot of times kids get forgotten about their first year there.”
Macon would go on to Holmes, Miss., Community College to the National Junior College Tournament in Hutchinson, Kan., and would be named to the first-team All-American squad along with Barford.
“He went down to Holmes and continued to develop and has become a great player on both ends of the floor,” Ingram said. “I have had two NBA scouts that have seen him play this season that he is a definite NBA player because of the way he shoots it, his length - he has a 6-10 wing span on a 6-4 frame - and the way he has just become a complete player.”
Barford has grown from a 6-2, 180-pound kid in high school senior to a 6-5, 210-pound man the last two years while at junior college.
“He is a full-grown man that can get his shot whenever he wants it,” Ingram said. “He can get to the rack, finish and he also can shoot the 3. While Daryl is more a pure shooter, Barford can just get on these rolls where he is unstoppable and making three-pointer after three pointer. He is just a scorer.
“But Barford loves to pressure the ball on defense from one end of the court to the other and Arkansas is going to be able to cause turnovers with these guys next year, something that are obviously not doing this season.
“Because they can score so well, people tend to overlook what they bring defensively to the table. That is something that they really add to Arkansas next season. Not only will they be able to score, but they will be able to keep people from scoring. It’s going to be different.”
Ingram has seen Cook play twice this season and also feels he will bring something to the table that Arkansas is missing this season except for junior standout Moses Kingsley.
“Cook is a guy that is tough, can finish around the rim, will go get rebounds and adds a defensive presence that can help Arkansas,” Ingram said. “If we can keep Moses around, he is going to be a great compliment to him inside. That is a spot that Arkansas has not got much help from this season.
“He is another guy that will add toughness around the rim that is needed.”
Bailey is having an outstanding senior season while averaging 19 points, 12 rebounds and 4 blocks.
“I haven’t had a chance to see him play, but he is coming to play in my All-Star game in Little Rock the Thursday night before the Real Deal in the Rock (AAU Tournament on March 31-April 3),” Ingram said.
Jones is averaging 28 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals per game.
Thomas averaged 20 points, 14 rebounds, 5 steals and 4 assists per game while making 48 percent of his 3-pointers as a senior at Pleasant Grove, Texas, High School.
He played 67 games at Colorado over two seasons while averaging 4.4 points and 2.5 rebounds as a sophomore.
Ingram can see a powerful mix of the incoming players molding with the returnees to give Arkansas a really good to great team next season.
“I think you are going to see what is missing this year is going to be there next season,” Ingram said. “I think this is a team that is going to start getting Arkansas back in the NCAA Tournament all the time.”
• • •
Ingram has also coached Little Rock Christian freshman guard Justice Hill (5-11, 160) - the newest Arkansas basketball commit - during AAU play and raves about him.
Hill is averaging 14.9 points, 3.9 assists and 2.6 rebounds per game.
“I know a lot of people probably have not seen him yet, but I am telling you that this kid is special,” Ingram said. “I have coached a long time and I am telling you that he is better than Joe Johnson, Ronnie (Brewer) and all some other great ones and he is the best one I have ever had as a ninth grader.”