If there were ever a year for Arkansas Razorback coach Eric Musselman to essentially turn over his entire roster, this was probably the ideal season to do it.
Because of an upcoming European tour, the team gets 10 practices to install the offense and defense plus four games across two countries over the course of six days. The list of things Musselman listed that the team has already absorbed was overwhelming to hear, much less learn.
As Musselman pointed out in his press conference Wednesday afternoon, his team will have a massive head start on where they would have been when traditional practices kick off this fall.
One player who might not play is freshman Nick Smith. The promising guard hurt his finger back on Monday and reportedly had it wrapped in practice.
"Our goal is to have everything in by Sept. 1 and then go back in September and October and clean things up and maybe add a little bit," Musselman said. "We have a lot in. It doesn’t mean we won’t be sloppy with our execution, but when we come back in September we won’t have to slow down to teach."
While getting extra time to learn the system, for freshman Jordan Walsh, the most valuable aspect is getting to spend time together in a memorable environment while working against more mature athletes.
"To me it’s more than just a basketball trip, Walsh said. "It’s a team bonding trip, being able to get away from just having scrimmages within our team and we get to play against grown men in Spain. For me that’s the best part because I want to be able to reach out and play against those grown men. Hopefully, that can be my future eventually. I want to play against those older and more mature people.
"It’s also about going out and bonding as a team and having fun together not just as a team, but with the staff."
Another benefit is a chance to acclimate to the Musselman's expectation for practice intensity. Following a practice described as a 6 out of 10 for how much he asked of his players, Musselman said the team was as tired as he's seen them on Wednesday.
While several players have begun to find their voices as far as support, including Missouri transfer Trevon Brazile's more subtle, quiet approach, veteran guard Davonte Davis has been identified as the team's clear leader.
"A big word is who are you gonna to trust in a game and he’s earned our trust obviously," Musselman said. "The role he had as a freshman on an Elite 8 team, his role increased as the stakes rose.
"I think about the steal he had at Kentucky and some of the stuff he did as a freshman down the last 15 games of the season and a really good sophomore year. I know he’s one of the most experienced players in the SEC."
However, the time Musselman and Davis have spent together takes a bit of the pressure for one half of the team's two returning scholarship players.
"It doesn't really matter what he does in the four games in Italy and Spain," Musselman said. "He’s the one guy that I have a really good comfort zone for who is he is as a player."
While the pressure is off for this tour, that doesn't mean Davis isn't working on parts of his game he wants to test in these extra games.
"With all of our guys we expect them to improve across the board," Musselman said. "He’s been putting in extra time shooting. He needs to continue to improve as a shooter for sure."
It also gives the team more opportunities to improve on shooting in real game situations. If they don’t improve soon, it could be detrimental to Musselman’s health.
When the team misses two free throws in a row, they do push-ups and Musselman and his staff join them.
It really shows that we’re one Hog, one team," freshman Barry Dunning, Jr. said. "We’re together and it shows how important we mean to each other and what we’re trying to get to. It’s a lot of push-ups. We’re gonna be really strong, I’ll tell you that."
However, as many fans may remember, the active involvement by the fiery coach resulted in surgery for a torn rotator cuff last season. While Musselman almost felt like he was joking, his concern about how it would affect his workman’s comp should he re-injure his shoulder doing push-up is legitimate.
However, that work ethic of joining in with the players on those sorts of things so they can’t complain about having to do them was engrained early on by his father, which means it’s a practice that isn’t going to change.
"My dad’s thing was the minute you can’t demonstrate, get out of coaching," Musselman said. "I’m not sure everybody buys into that, but that’s the roof I grew up under. If our players are going to do push-ups, I should probably be able to."
Razorback fans will be able to catch the European tour through the Flo Hoops app. The subscription is $29.99 per month.
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