Arkansas Razorbacks coach Eric Musselman shares strategy for recruiting the transfer portal
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Musselman shares strategy for recruiting the transfer portal

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Eric Musselman has a specific strategy for recruiting players out of the transfer portal.
Eric Musselman has a specific strategy for recruiting players out of the transfer portal. (Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports)

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FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas’ season ended in the Elite 8 earlier this week, but Eric Musselman hasn’t taken any time off.

Having already been working the phones, the Razorbacks’ head coach quickly secured a commitment from Pitt transfer Au’Diese Toney and is actively searching for more players in the transfer portal.

“My wife was not happy last night at all,” Musselman told reporters Thursday. “I was on the phone until about 12:30 last night and I got up at 5 this morning. It’s hard, I’m not going to lie to you.”

Musselman added that the staff had three Zoom interviews with potential transfers on their first day back from Indianapolis, despite being in the bubble and separated from their families for three weeks.

Toney, a 6-foot-6 wing who averaged 14.4 points and 5.9 rebounds for the Panthers this season, is capable of playing multiple positions for the Razorbacks, which is the kind of player they are looking for.

“We’ve had some Zooms and we’ll continue to have Zooms,” Musselman said. “We just want the right fit, and if you talk to players, you can get a feel for if it’s a good fit off the floor and on the floor. Again, I think that player that kind of plays that positionless basketball at times seems to be a great fit for us.”

Of course, with more than 1,000 available transfers, zeroing in on specific players can be challenging.

Luckily for the Razorbacks, Musselman is well-versed in the portal. Arguably more than any other coach, he has built Nevada and now Arkansas into top-10 teams with transfers.

Last year, Jimmy Whitt Jr. was a key player on a 20-win team. This year, Justin Smith, Jalen Tate and JD Notae were vital to the Razorbacks’ run to the Elite 8.

“The evaluation part is really the most important part, especially with this many guys,” Musselman said. “You’ve got to clearly identify what your team needs and clearly identify what a player can do.

“Then we have statistical formulas that we’ve created - not any outside company - we’ve created internally from the last six years that we continue to build on, where we plug a player from one conference in and how do we project them as an SEC player. We had that down really well in the Mountain West and now we feel, after the last couple years, that the same formula can help us moving forward in the SEC.”

Arkansas would benefit from adding a three-point shooter via the portal, as that has become even more important in the way the game is played these days, but Musselman said that isn’t necessarily their No. 1 target.

Instead, he would like to see the Razorbacks add versatile players capable of being shutdown defenders.

“For the bulk of the season, game one to the very end, Smith and Tate were our versatile defenders,” Musselman said. “So I think maybe on the outside you can look and maybe say, ‘Hey, add shooting,’ but in reality, we won a lot of games based on two guys being great, great defenders for us.”

As things currently stand, Arkansas has one scholarship open for next season. However, that number will increase if Moses Moody declares for the NBA Draft, as expected, or if any other players decide to leave the program.

The Razorbacks have already been in contact with many potential transfers, but Musselman cautioned fans not to look too much into all of them because getting in touch with a player doesn’t always mean they’re interested in actually bringing them in.

“Don’t believe everything you read about the portal and who Arkansas is interested in,” Musselman said. “There’s a difference between making a phone call and interest. There’s a strategy behind it. Some players might get a call and there might not be real interest. It might just be an inquiry or smoke screen or whatever you want to call it.”

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