Assessing redshirt years of Vanover, Notae, Iyiola
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FAYETTEVILLE — When he’s not shooting funny videos for social media or helping his wife homeschool their daughter, Eric Musselman is spending his newfound free time about like you’d expect.
Having just prematurely concluded his first season as Arkansas’ head coach because of the coronavirus, he is already working with his staff on some schematic adjustments for 2020-21.
Musselman’s first project is figuring out exactly what the Razorbacks need to change with the addition of forward Connor Vanover, who sat out this season after transferring from Cal.
“The way we play pick-and-roll with Connor Vanover is going to have to change,” Musselman said. “We’re not going to switch pick-and-rolls like we did with Adrio (Bailey), where he ends up being our 5 man, then ends up guarding a guard.”
At 7-foot-3, Vanover will be the tallest player in UA history, according to HogStats.com. That’s a drastic difference from this year’s team, when Bailey - at 6-foot-6 - was the primary starting big man, with 6-foot-8 Reggie Chaney and Ethan Henderson being the tallest eligible players.
To come up with a plan for that added height, Musselman said he and his staff are studying 7-footers in the NBA. Specifically, they are taking notes on how teams like the Milwaukee Bucks trap their pick-and-rolls.
“He changes the dynamics of what we look like when we get off the bus and in warmups,” Musselman said. “We look different with him because of his size.”
Although he still needs to keep working on his post moves - because he’s “got such great touch,” Musselman said - and continue adding strength in both his lower- and upper-body, Vanover will be a key addition to the rotation.
Not only does he give the Razorbacks some much-needed size, but he will be another perimeter threat to complement - if they return - Mason Jones and Isaiah Joe, as well as Desi Sills. In his lone season with the Golden Bears, Vanover shot 35.5 percent (27 of 76) beyond the arc.
The year off also gave him an opportunity to mesh with his teammates and learn what Musselman is looking for.
“I think the biggest growth that we saw from Connor was he went from not saying much at all on the floor to one of our better talkers,” Musselman said. “Communication on the floor is really important for us in our system and what we believe in. Connor went from kind of a shy, not saying much to being one of our stronger voices.”
Vanover is actually one of three transfer players who had to sit out this season after joining the Razorbacks, with the others being guard JD Notae and forward Abayomi Iyiola.
Of those two, Notae will likely have the biggest impact next season. He played the part of other teams’ best player on Arkansas’ scout team this season and impressed Musselman with the extra work he put in on the court and in the weight room. He is a versatile player who could play multiple guard spots for the Razorbacks.
“He’s a quiet guy that’s really competitive and really tough-minded,” Musselman said. “He doesn’t say a lot, but he competes. He’s got great toughness. … He’s a guy that can create his own shot. He’s a guy that I think is going to be able to create offense through defensively getting steals.”
It hasn’t always been that way, though. He came to Arkansas after averaging 15.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.7 steals in 60 games over two years, but that was at Jacksonville, an Atlantic Sun school.
Although making the jump to the SEC was a challenge, having to sit out this season proved to be critical to him working through that.
“I think that when he first got here, he might not have been used to the speed and the size obviously coming from Jacksonville,” Musselman said. “I think he adjusted when he was on the scout team, just building his confidence up through scoring on people and those types of things.”
Notae was a high-volume shooter for the Dolphins, averaging 13.4 total field goal attempts. A large chunk of those - 5.3 per game, to be exact - were from beyond the arc and he made 35.2 percent of those shots.
Based on the work he’s put into that area this season, Musselman said he feels like he’d be an even more consistent three-point shooter with the Razorbacks.
“I think the big thing with JD is just getting experience,” Musselman said. “The one thing that we know from being at Nevada and having guys sit out a year is those first three to four games become important for those guys from a confidence standpoint because they’ve been out for a full season.”
Another former Atlantic Sun standout, Iyiola averaged 10.4 points and 6.9 rebounds in two years for current Arkansas assistant Corey Williams at Stetson.
“He’s a worker, 100 percent energy at all times,” Musselman said. “That just kind of who he is. He’s just a utility guy who really, really works and works and works.”
Having three scholarships taken up by transfers who have to sit out a year is nothing new to Musselman. He heavily used traditional transfers and graduate transfers, with 10 of his 13 scholarship players on his final team with the Wolfpack beginning their careers with another DI school.
Now with five years as a college head coach under his belt, Musselman has his system down to a science. His goal is to use four scholarships on players who don’t play, whether as traditional redshirt, transfer redshirt or simply an open spot.
“We don’t really call it a sit-out year,” Musselman said of the transfer redshirts, like Vanover, Notae and Iyiola. “We call it a player-development year. A lot of that is up to the individual player.”
That leaves the team with a limited roster, which means they’re unable to scrimmage much during the season. Instead, the transfer redshirts are on scout team duty.
This season, though, assistant coach Clay Moser implemented something a lot of NBA teams do: 3-on-3 scrimmages after practices. He would then rank them and provide feedback every day.
As the team enters an uncertain offseason, Musselman is pleased with all three players’ progress and hopes it continues through the summer.
“I think they did really well, but it’s not over,” Musselman said. “They still have quite a few months before they’ll play a game in November, so it’s going to be important that they continue that, but now, obviously, they’re a focal point in everything that we do moving forward.”
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