basketball Edit

Arkansas' history of 5-star basketball recruits

Bobby Portis is one of only a handful of five-star players Arkansas has signed during the Rivals era.
Bobby Portis is one of only a handful of five-star players Arkansas has signed during the Rivals era. (Joshua Lindsey- USA TODAY Sports)

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There was a time when Arkansas landing blue-chip prospects in basketball was not only unsurprising, but somewhat expected.

In fact, during a 17-year period from 1980-1996 that spanned the Eddie Sutton and Nolan Richardson eras, the Razorbacks had 12 different McDonald’s All-Americans on their roster.

That was before Rivals and other recruiting services grew into prominence, but players like Joe Kleine, Ron Huery, Todd Day, Lee Mayberry, Corliss Williamson and Kareem Reid would have probably been considered five-star prospects back in the day.

It wasn’t until the early 2000s that the five-star term became synonymous with recruiting and, unfortunately for Arkansas, that coincided with Richardson’s departure and the subsequent spiraling of the program off the national stage.

That is why Nick Smith’s commitment on Wednesday is such a big deal for the Razorbacks. He is just the fifth five-star player to choose Arkansas during the two decades of the Rivals150 rankings, which started in 2003.

Smith actually ends the Razorbacks’ nearly decade-long drought without a five-star recruit in basketball. From 2014-21, a total of 55 different schools - including every SEC team except Arkansas, Ole Miss and South Carolina - landed at least one five-star prospect.

If head coach Eric Musselman can continue building on an Elite Eight appearance in Year 2 at the helm, it is probably a safe bet that the following list will grow in the years to come…

2003 - Olu Famutimi

An international prospect from Toronto, Famutimi moved to Michigan to complete his high school career and evolved into a McDonald’s All-American. Ranked as high as No. 7 (ESPN) in the same class that included LeBron James, he was pursued by the likes of Duke, Kentucky, Louisville and North Carolina, but ultimately chose Arkansas over Missouri and Memphis.

Famutimi was the crown jewel of Stan Heath’s first signing class at Arkansas, which included four Rivals150 players. Unfortunately, a torn ACL suffered his senior year of high school hindered his insane athleticism that allowed him to dunk at just 11 years old and he never lived up to his potential.

Although he landed on the 2004 SEC All-Freshman Team, Famutimi averaged just 8.3 points and 3.8 rebounds in two seasons with the Razorbacks before declaring for the NBA Draft following his sophomore season. He went undrafted and spent time in the D-League with a few training camp and summer league opportunities sprinkled in, but most of his professional career was spent overseas.

2004 - Al Jefferson

Playing for a small school in Mississippi, Jefferson put up monster stats in high school. The 6-foot-9, 260-pound big man led Prentiss High to a state championship as a junior and then dropped 56 points in a semifinal loss the next year, capping a senior season in which he averaged 42.6 points, 18 rebounds and 7 blocks.

Those numbers helped him land on the McDonald’s, Parade and USA Today All-America teams, as well as draw plenty of attention from scouts - college and pro, alike. Jefferson committed to Arkansas over Mississippi State and LSU, but ultimately, the Razorbacks couldn’t beat out the NBA.

Back when players could go pro straight out of high school, Jefferson declared for the NBA Draft and was taken 15th overall by the Boston Celtics. He enjoyed success at the professional level, averaging 15.7 points and 8.4 rebounds during his 14-year NBA career. He was a second-team All-Rookie selection in 2005 and landed on the All-NBA third team in 2014.

2011 - B.J. Young

A 6-foot-3, 175-pound point guard from St. Louis, Young asserted himself as one of the top players in his class with a strong showing at the NBA Top 100 Camp in 2010 and followed it up by leading McCluer North High to a state title while averaging 28.6 points.

Committing to the Razorbacks over Indiana, Baylor, Marquette and others, he was the centerpiece of Arkansas’ stellar 2011 recruiting class that was supposed to save John Pelphrey’s job. Pelphrey still got fired, though, after failing to make the NCAA Tournament for a third straight year.

Young opted to stick with Arkansas and new coach Mike Anderson and was named second-team All-SEC as a freshman in 2012. He averaged 15.2 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists over two seasons with the Razorbacks before declaring for the NBA Draft. After going undrafted, Young spent some time in the D-League, but most of his professional career has been overseas.

2013 - Bobby Portis

Despite being a McDonald’s All-American, Portis ended his recruitment early by committing to Arkansas in August of his junior year and never wavered, even when the likes of Baylor, Florida and Kansas came calling.

He led Little Rock Hall to four straight state championships - two apiece at the Class 6A and 7A levels - and also helped the Arkansas Wings win an AAU national championship alongside future college teammate Moses Kingsley.

Once he arrived in Fayetteville, Portis lived up to the hype. Following a solid freshman year that saw him earn second-team All-SEC accolades, he won SEC Player of the Year and was named a second-team All-American after averaging 17.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks as a sophomore in 2015.

Portis was the 22nd overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft and has played for four different franchises over the last six seasons. Most recently, he was a key member of the Milwaukee Bucks team that won the 2021 NBA Championship.

Just Missed the Cut

2003 - Ronnie Brewer - No. 29 (fourth 4-star)

2004 - Steven Hill - No. 37 (seventh 4-star)

2006 - Michael Washington - No. 35 (fifth 4-star)

2011 - Ky Madden - No. 32 (sixth 4-star)

2017 - Daniel Gafford - No. 31 (second 4-star)