Arkansas’ basketball program knows it will have at least six new faces on its roster next season and there’s a possibility of a very big seventh.
The Razorback staff was in to see 6-11, 236-pound center and Mali native Cheickna Dembele of Chambersburg, Pa., Scotland Performance Institute on Wednesday.
Dembele, who arrived in the United States in November and has since added 25 pounds, is averaging 16 points, 11 rebounds and 4.5 blocks this season for head coach Jareem Dowling.
“I would describe his game as [Serge] Ibaka-ish from Oklahoma [City],” Dowling told Scout.com’s Alex Halsted. “I would say he’s two steps behind Ibaka in the movement, in how quick he makes his movements.
“Right now he’s thinking a little bit too much but I think he’ll get that in the next couple of months. He came here pretty much pre-programmed.
“A lot of people like to take credit for developing kids but he came here pre-developed. All we wanted to do is not mess it up and just add to it. The best part about it is he was willing to learn in every factor from the right way to eat, the right way to lift, he’s receptive to our coaching.”
Dembele has offers from Iowa State, Missouri, North Carolina State, St. Joseph’s, LaSalle and Charlotte.
Arkansas joins a host of other schools now involved, including Connecticut, Alabama, Florida, Syracuse, Southern Miss, Maryland, Georgetown, Temple, Iowa, Baylor, Oklahoma State and Arizona State.
Dowling referenced Arkansas retail giant Walmart when describing Dembele.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that wherever Cheick decides to go, that he will be ready to contribute anywhere from 15 to 25 minutes a game as a freshman because his development is that rapid,” Dowling said.
“He came here basically pre-cooked. It’s like going to Wal-Mart and they have those pre-cooked dinners and all you have to do is follow the instructions and it comes out good when you eat it.
“That’s pretty much Cheick. You put him in the oven and follow the directions that we’ve learned and keep giving it to him, he makes us look like we’re geniuses.”
The NCAA’s spring signing period will run from April 13 to May 18, but Dowling expects Dembele to just take a few official visits and decide quickly.
“It’s definitely about relationships,” Dowling said. “Pretty much that’s all it’s about for him. All he cares about is being around good people, being around a good staff and good teammates.
“That’s what he keeps saying, ‘Coach, I want to be with good people. I can’t think basketball. I want to be with good people.’ He’s an outstanding kid. He’s a really, really good human being.”
Arkansas signed four players in the early signing period, including three of the nation’s top five junior college players.
Motlow, Tenn., State point guard Jaylen Barford (6-5, 210) was just named the Tennessee Community College Athletic Association Player of the Year and is expected to be named a first-team All-American for the second straight season.
Barford is averaging 25.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.8 assists for a 26-6 team that will play in the TCAAA/Region VII Tournament next week.
Fellow Razorback signee Daryl Macon (6-4, 180) – a fellow first-team All-American last season – is averaging 23.5 points this season and was just named the MACJC Player of the Week.
He has scored 37 and 33 points in his last two games for the Bulldogs (18-6), who will play next week in the Region XXIII Tournament as they try to make a return trip to the national tournament in Hutchinson, Kan.
Arkansas also signed Warner, Okla., Connors State power forward Arlando Cook (6-9, 215), who is averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds for a 24-4 squad.
Campti, La., Lakeview forward Adrio Bailey (6-8, 207) – the fourth fall signee – is averaging 19.5 points, 12.7 rebounds and 3.9 rebounds heading into the playoffs.
The Razorbacks added a commit Sunday from Birmingham, Ala., Christian Academy small forward C.J. Jones (6-5, 180), who is averaging 28 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists per game.
Arkansas will also add in 6-7, 225-pound forward Dustin Thomas, who is redshirting this season after transferring from Colorado.