Three-Point Play: Arkansas' flying start; 4 hot freshmen; Bronny James
Talk about taking an opportunity and running with it. The Eric Musselman era couldn’t be off to a better start at Arkansas. National Analyst Eric Bossi discusses the Razorbacks' start, some impressive freshman debuts and previews a major Thanksgiving event feeling the Bronny James effect in today’s edition of the Three-Point-Play.
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1. Home run hire for Hogs
You never quite know what will happen after a coaching shakeup, but the early returns in Fayetteville, where Eric Musselman replaced Mike Anderson (who is off to his own good start at St. John’s), have been as good as anybody could have hoped for.
Musselman inherited a Razorbacks squad with a pair of stud college guards in Isaiah Joe and Mason Jones and added a key piece in SMU grad transfer Jimmy Whitt, who decided to come back to the place he started his college career. Throw in some toughness and athleticism around those guys and you have a team that has moved to 6-0 after a Monday night's buzzer-beating overtime win at Georgia Tech.
Early success shouldn’t be that big of a surprise. After all, Mussleman had proven himself at Nevada and Anderson left him a program in pretty good shape. Still, there have been plenty of other coaches that have done less with more and the new regime has definitely energized the fanbase.
On top of that, Musselman and company landed the job just in time to make major noise with a loaded 2020 class of homegrown products. Over the weekend, they added their third local four-star prospect when big man Jaylin Williams joined up with guards Davonte Davis and Moses Moody. The group already ranks No. 15 nationally in the class of 2020 and it should get even better on Thanksgiving. Four-star point guard KK Robinson – another homegrown product – is slated to announce his decision then and all signs point towards him joining the local movement. He’s a playmaker and the perfect guy to bring the class together. If he commits as expected, Arkansas’ class will move to No. 7 overall.
2. Four freshmen to keep an eye on
We are still about a week away from debuting our first freshman tracker of the 2020 season. However, I’ve been watching a lot of college hoops and there are four freshmen in particular that I want to get to before then because they didn’t arrive with the hype of James Wiseman, Anthony Edwards or Cole Anthony. They are Arizona’s Zeke Nnaji, Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn, Texas Tech’s Jahmi’us Ramsey and USC’s Onyeka Okongwu.
I’ll start with Nnaji because his start out in the desert has been absolutely electric. The 6-foot-10 big man from Minnesota is averaging 19.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game while shooting a ridiculous 80.7% from the field. If you follow me at all, you will know that I’ve felt pretty strong about Nnaji’s potential for some time now and after seeing the five-star during USA Basketball over the summer I discussed that it was pretty crazy that he was headed to Tucson with essentially no hype because he was being looked at as almost just another guy with fellow five-stars Nico Mannion and Josh Green.
I only wish I had gone with my gut and pushed to rank him even higher than we did. Regardless, he’s looking like a Lottery pick to me and it’s only a matter of time before he starts generating major headlines nationally.
At Illinois, Cockburn has been the most pleasant surprise of this year’s freshman class. I’m not even sure it’s close given the 15.8 points and 12.7 rebounds a night he’s averaging after six games. A massive center who is surprisingly nimble given his size, Cockburn didn’t have a great senior year as he battled his weight and at times his own effort.
Was it a bad evaluation on our part? A long look in the mirror on his part? Or do Brad Underwood and his staff have some secret sauce they use to get the most out of him? The answer is that it is probably all of the above but at the end of the day the credit always goes to the player for digging deep and deciding that he can be better. Can Cockburn sustain his great start? We’ll see but he’s already outplaying even the most hopeful of expectations and deserves praise for what he’s done to start the year.
Texas Tech fans may be reading this wondering why I would list Ramsey here because the Red Raiders had plenty of high expectations for their first ever five-star. But, meeting those expectations isn’t always easy and despite all of their success under Chris Beard, there are still many general fans of college hoops who are overlooking them. Hopefully, more will start paying attention because Ramsey is off to a special start in Lubbock averaging over 19 points per game. NBA types are starting to buzz about him and there’s a chance that his stay in college may only last one year.
Finally, there’s Okongwu. The former five-star center from Southern California was the most controversial exclusion from the McDonald’s All-American Game last winter and he’s been a man possessed for Andy Enfield and his staff at USC. Big O has been good for 18 points, 8.8 rebounds and three blocks per contest and looks like the Trojans best player.
3. Bronny James and Co. have game moved to NBA arena
Each year, Glenn Smith’s Thanksgiving Hoopfest in Dallas serves as my unofficial start to the high school season. It is always a loaded event showcasing top talent from Texas against surrounding states. This year is no different. In fact it’s gone up another level.
Slated to hit the floor on Friday and Saturday are 12 five-star and 27 four-star prospects between the classes of 2020, 2021 and 2022. We’re talking guys like Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, Caleb Love and Ziaire Williams. All household names in the recruiting world. But as big as those stars and others are, it may be freshman LeBron James Jr. of Sierra Canyon who has the most drawing power.
Consider this. The event usually draws between five and six thousand fans over the two days of games at Duncanville (Texas) High. This year, tickets for Saturday sold out within an hour of going on sale and demand is so great that the night’s games have been moved from Duncanville to the home of the Dallas Mavericks, the American Airlines Center.
We’ve already seen the infatuation with Bronny during the summer. The son of arguably the best player in NBA history packed gyms all summer long and has achieved incredible stardom despite only logging a few high school games under his belt. Now, games are already being moved to NBA arenas because of demand? Wow.
Don’t get me wrong, James isn’t the only reason that games had to be moved to a venue that can accommodate what is expected to be a crowd of at least eight or nine thousand people. After all, the event is loaded. But, I’m betting this isn’t going to be the last time an event with him has to be moved and it’s going to be really interesting to watch him navigate all of this over the next four years.