College basketball preseason workouts are still months away but on Monday’s “Pick Up Game” podcast, hosted by Seth Greenberg, Arkansas head basketball coach Eric Musselman discussed how he is trying to keep his players ready for the day when campus athletic facilities open back up.
Looking back at the beginning of the COVID-19 shutdown of college athletics, Musselman told Greenberg, “We were at the SEC Tournament, played one game, won that game. We’re getting ready for game two and all of the sudden everything is cancelled. We get back to campus on Thursday and everybody was gone by Friday. So we had a natural two week time period where we could let the guys be alone. Then we did two Zoom meetings with the team and then we rolled right into dead week. Then finals week just ended last Friday.” Musselman admitted that those two team Zoom meetings didn’t make for, “a lot of contact with the guys.”
“But,” he emphasized, “this week we’re going to start diving into a lot more Zoom meetings.” Musselman has also been doing virtual one-on-one meetings with his players, telling Greenberg, “I’ve been Face Timing guys almost every night individually. Trying to get two guys a day. Sometimes three guys a day. But the only real way we can get with the players, because they are not allowed on campus, is through Face Time and team Zoom stuff.”
During the shutdown Musselman still managed to put the wraps on the best recruiting class in years for Arkansas’ basketball program, rated as high as number five in the country for 2020 by some services. He may not be done. Activity in the transfer portal is still going full steam with Arkansas mentioned almost daily in various Internet reports.
“It’s been the most competitive off-season for transfers,” Musselman stressed. “Nothing compares to what’s been going on this year. Actually there’s a lot of guys who are being over recruited or their roles are exaggerated and I think the transfer market moving forward, looking back on this year, there’s a lot of decisions that are going to have to be made.”
Musselman also addressed increased competition for high school recruits from the NBA’s G League Select Team. How do college coaches sell their programs to players who have the ability to jump straight from high school and land a one-year, $125,000 pro contract?
“I like the system the way it is, “Musselman answered. “I think even if a player is only going to play at the collegiate level for one year he does experience the college life. “I know there’s a lot better preparation for an NBA player dealing with the media after an SEC game than in the G League with one guy in the media after a Bakersville Jam game. Or no media members after an Idaho Stampede game. Or playing in Casper, Wyoming for the Wyoming Wildcatters in front of nine people. Like there’s twenty thousand people at Bud Walton Arena. I think that’s gonna prepare you a lot more than playing a G League team in front of 14 people.”
Musselman did not mention by name the two Arkansas players that have declared for the upcoming NBA draft but in answer to a question about how competitive the draft is these days he said, “I asked one of them, ‘what’s going to happen if you don’t get drafted? Do you ever think that in twelve months there are going to be another sixty players drafted and you’ll have to try to beat those sixty out and those who are coming back from overseas?’ So I think it is really difficult to make players understand how hard it is to make it in the NBA.”
Musselman gave a look, perhaps, at the kind of team leader he favors when asked about the most important lesson he took away from the recent “The Last Dance” documentary on ESPN. Referring to former NBA great Michael Jordan, Musselman observed, “He was going to put winning and driving his teammates over being a nice guy and being liked. When you’re in the leadership position that he was in, he made a decision that the only thing that was important to him was to get the win and not about friendships.”
Musselman also referred to a humorous but revealing story about his late father Bill Musselman who won 76% of his games as a college coach and went on to a 16 year career professional basketball, coaching in the NBA, the ABA and the CBA. Of Bill Musselman’s 1988 CBA team at Albany, New York, he said, “His goal that year was to go 50-0 which sounds so wild because you’re playing three games in three nights, sometimes five games in seven nights. I think they started off 17-0 and my phone rang. I was a senior in college at the time and my friend Scott Roth (who was on that team) said, ‘Your dad’s going crazy. You gotta do something. We’re 17-1 and the world’s coming to an end.’ ”
The Albany Patroons didn’t go undefeated that season but they did win the CBA championship and Bill Musselman, who once said, “Defeat is worse than death because you have to live with defeat,” was named the CBA coach of the year.