Coach Eric Musselman is recruiting at a level not seen within the Arkansas men’s basketball program since Nolan Richardson built a national powerhouse in the 1990s.
By Matt Jones
After signing three 5-star prospects in the high school class of 2022 during the spring, Musselman added two more 5-star players in the early signing period for the class of 2023. The latest blue chippers to sign with Arkansas are 6’2” guard Layden Blocker of Little Rock and 6’10” center Baye Fall of the Senegal. Blocker, who began his prep career at Little Rock Christian, plays for Sunrise Christian Academy near Wichita, Kansas, and Fall plays for Accelerated Schools in Denver. Blocker is ranked the 25th-best overall prospect and fourth-best point guard in the 247 Sports Composite rankings. Fall is ranked the 14th-best prospect overall and the third-best center in the same rankings. Both players are on the watch list for the Naismith Boys High School Player of the Year award. Blocker averaged 9 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.3 steals as a junior on a talented roster at Sunrise Christian Academy. As a sophomore at Little Rock Christian, Blocker averaged 20 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals. “He is a player who has continued to improve his game and has tremendous upside,” Musselman said. “Layden is a tenacious defender and versatile floor general. He comes from a well-coached program and has experience competing against some of the best young players in the country.” Fall was a standout at the National Basketball Players Association Top 100 Camp earlier this year. He averaged an event high 14.9 points and 9.4 rebounds. He and Blocker were both on the 10-man all-star squad at the NBPA event. Fall averaged 14.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks as a junior at Denver Prep Academy. He spent his sophomore season at Lutheran High School in the Denver suburb of Parker, where he averaged 22.1 points, 10 rebounds and 3.2 blocked shots for a state championship team. Fall was named Colorado’s player of the year for his classification as a sophomore. “Baye has been a top priority for our coaching staff since the beginning of our tenure at Arkansas,” Musselman said. “He plays with contagious energy and is an excellent two-way player who can affect the game on both offense and defense. Baye fits our NBA/Arkansas mold with his versatility and being a position-less basketball player. We believe the pairing of Baye Fall with Layden Blocker can give Arkansas one of the most exciting freshman duos in the entire country next season.” NBADraft.net projects Ball to be the No. 4 overall pick in the 2024 NBA Draft. The same site projects Blocker to be the 20th overall pick that year. Before the Razorbacks signed three 5-star recruits — guards Nick Smith, Anthony Black and Jordan Walsh — in the class of 2022, Arkansas had not added a 5-star recruit since Bobby Portis in 2013. WOMEN’S BASKETBALL Arkansas women’s basketball coach Mike Neighbors also signed a 5-star recruit in the early period, guard Taliah Scott of St. Johns Country Day School in Orange Park, Florida. Neighbors recently recalled when Scott committed in September 2021 at the end of a recruiting visit to Fayetteville that coincided with the football team’s 40-21 victory over Texas. “I was preparing to deliver the final speech to leave with her on the trip home when she most politely interrupted me and said, ‘Coach, I want to be a Razorback,’” Neighbors told WholeHogSports.com. “I thought I had misheard her. The room went silent as everyone seemed to be thinking the same. “The shock and surprise on everyone’s face quickly turned into a celebration when she said, ‘Like, right now, I’m committing.’” ESPN HoopGurlz ranks Scott the No. 11 prospect in this year’s senior class. She is on the preseason watch list for the Naismith after averaging 31.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4 assists and 3.4 steals last season. The Razorbacks also signed 6-3 forward Jenna Lawrence from Farmington. Lawrence is ranked 61st in the national HoopGurlz recruiting rankings. Lawrence averaged 18 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 1.7 blocks as a junior at Farmington. Her high school team has a 101-5 record during her first three seasons. Maryn Archer, a 5’7” guard from Derby, Kansas, is not ranked in the HoopGurlz recruiting rankings, but is a top-100 recruit by other publications, including No. 29 by Prep Girls. Archer averaged 10 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 2.8 steals as a junior. BASEBALL Baseball America has been ranking recruiting classes for 21 years and Perfect Game has been ranking classes for 12 years. Never in the history of either publication had Arkansas’ signing class ranked first until this year. The Razorbacks’ signing class includes 12 players who are ranked among the top 90 overall by Perfect Game. “This year’s signing class is a testament to how hard our staff works on the recruiting trail,” Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said. “Coach (Nate) Thompson and Coach (Matt) Hobbs spend a lot of days and nights on the road to find guys that fit our program. We want guys that want to get better, want to develop, and want to work extremely hard alongside highly motivated coaches and teammates. The future is bright for this group, and we’re excited to get them here.” Arkansas’ top-100 commits, according to Perfect Game, are right-handed pitchers Dylan Questad, Gabe Gaeckle and Barrett Kent; left-handed pitchers Adam Hachman and Tucker Holland; shortstops Aidan Miller, Walker Martin and Nolan Souza; catchers Ryder Helfrick and Ty Waid; third baseman Nazzan Zanetello; and outfielder Kendall George. Waid, from Texarkana, is the only in-state commit among the top 100. The Razorbacks have a pair of top-100 commits from California (Helfrick and Gaeckle), Texas (Kent and George) and Missouri (Hachman and Zannetello). Miller, the No. 4-ranked recruit by Perfect Game, is from Florida. The other top-100 recruits are from Wisconsin (Questad), Colorado (Martin), Hawaii (Souza) and North Carolina (Holland). Eleven states are represented in the signing class, and right-handed pitcher Jaewood Cho is from South Korea. “Excited doesn’t begin to describe how we, as a staff, feel about these young men choosing to make Arkansas their home,” Thompson said. “This is an extremely talented, competitive and versatile group of position players and pitchers. They’ve performed at a very high level on the national stage and are hungry to make an immediate impact upon arrival in Fayetteville.” Eight commits — Miller, Helfrick, Hachman, Souza, George, Zanetello, Gaeckle and Questad — are ranked among the top 85 high school draft prospects in the class by Baseball America. SOFTBALL After signing the No. 1 class in the nation last fall, Arkansas softball coach Courtney Deifel had a considerably smaller haul this year. The Razorbacks’ 2023 class consists of only four players, including two from the state of Arkansas — infielder/utility player Jayden Wells of Paris and pitcher/ utility player Kasey Wood of Bentonville. Wells ranks 27th and Woods is 36th among 2023 recruits nationally by Extra Innings Softball. The signees — catcher/utility Kylie Brockman of Piper High School in Kansas City, Kansas, and catcher/infielder Kennedy Miller of Georgetown, Texas — are also ranked nationally by Extra Innings Softball. Brockman is the 19th-ranked recruit and Miller is 57th. “They are intensely competitive and fit perfectly into the culture that we have established here in Fayetteville,” Deifel said. SOCCER Arkansas’ class is highlighted by one of the state’s most decorated players, defender Kate Carter of Bentonville West. Carter was a high school All-American and the state’s Gatorade player of the year last season when she scored 16 goals and added 11 assists for the Wolverines’ Class 6A state championship team. “Kate is one of the more versatile players in the class,” Arkansas soccer coach Colby Hale said. “As we watched her play, I think we saw her play every position on the field except goalkeeper in the top league in the country at a high level.” Carter is among the 10 signees in the 13-member class who will enroll early and go through spring drills in 2023. “You can’t replace a Kate Carter — not just the athlete, but the kind of person she is,” Bentonville West coach Kerry Castillo told the Northwest Arkansas DemocratGazette. “Yes, we’re sad to see her go, but we’re so proud of her. This is a big deal for our program for someone to go and play for the Razorbacks, especially with the success they’ve had lately.” GOLF Arkansas’ men’s golf team is adding a transfer from Northwestern who was AllBig Ten two seasons ago. John Driscoll had a pair of top-5 finishes and was sixth at the Big Ten Championship as a sophomore in 2021. He played in five fall events this year with a 72.13 scoring average. Driscoll was a two-time state champion in New Jersey, including as an eighth grader to become the youngest champion in state history. The Razorbacks’ four-man signing class also includes Thomas Curry of Texas High School in Texarkana, Rex Hargrove of Cypress Creek High School in Houston and Erik Plenge from Puru. Curry, who lives in Arkansas, was the winner of the 2022 Arkansas Junior Amateur. Arkansas’ women’s golf team signed Abbey Schutte from Connections Academy in Goodyear, Arizona. Shutte is ranked 69th in the Rolex AJGA rankings and her father, Warren, was the 1991 individual national champion while a sophomore at UNLV. TRACK AND FIELD Pole vaulter John Scott Kendricks signed to compete at Arkansas. Kendricks has a career-best vault of 16 feet, 9 1/2 inches and won the title at the 2022 Adidas Outdoor Nationals. He was also a state champion in Class 6A in Mississippi while competing for Oxford High School. Kendricks had the 11th-best vault nationally by any high schooler last season and the fifth-best mark among vaulters his age. He is the younger brother of Sam Kendricks, an Olympian and two-time gold medalist at the World Championships. Sam Kendricks won NCAA championships at Ole Miss in 2013 and 2014. VOLLEYBALL Arkansas’ five-member volleyball signing class includes three players from Missouri who were named All-America Honorable Mentions by the American Volleyball Coaches Association — Lily Dudley of Columbia Rock Bridge, Logan Jones of Carl Junction and Ava Roth of Festus Jefferson. Dudley set her high school’s record with 1,189 career kills and is the second-ranked outside hitter in her home state. Jones is Missouri’s No. 3 overall recruit and a top-50 recruit nationally, according to PrepDig. She set school records for assists (3,503) and aces (159) during her four-year career. Roth led her 2A state championship team in digs per set (3.5), aces (58) and aces per set (0.5) this season. Arkansas also signed outside hitters Aniya Madkin of Clinton, Mississippi, and Olivia Ruy of Woods Cross High School in Salt Lake City. Madkin is one of her state’s premier track athletes — a four-time state champion who has won in the triple jump and long jump.