Kevin McPherson: Razorbacks Basketball No. 1 in Nation?

 

 

As good as the 2017 class appears to be for Arkansas Razorbacks basketball and head coach Mike Anderson — I believe it is his best compared to the classes that came before it – the 2018 class may end up being even better. With four players committed already, the Hogs currently boast the nation’s No. 1 recruiting haul for 2018, according to all of the major recruiting services.

And with two more scholarships to give in 2018, the Hogs can add to what could very well end up being a Top 5 class nationally by this time next year. We’ll talk more at a later date about the numerous 4-star possibilities for rounding out the 2018 class, but today, we’ll focus on the four “in-state” ballers who are committed — Reggie Perry, Ethan Henderson, Desi Sills, and Isaiah Joe — as well as the lone 2019 commit Justice Hill, who’s teammates with all four 2018 commits on the Arkansas Hawks grassroots-basketball spring/summer team.

Reggie Perry, 6-9 combo forward, Thomasville (GA) by way of Little Rock, composite national prospectReggie Perry Razorbacks Basketball Recruiting ranking of No. 30, a 4-star teetering on 5-star status … Hog commit … I thought it before he committed, and said it/wrote about it the very day that he committed to the Hogs (Wed., Aug. 17): Reggie Perry is the most talented recruit to pledge to Arkansas since Little Rock native and NBA star Joe Johnson near the end of the Nolan Richardson era in the late 1990s.

I remember watching Joe play at Little Rock Central, and thinking then that he just looked like a player destined to play in the NBA. I get that same feeling when I watch Reggie Perry scoring from 3, or making a play for himself or a teammate off the dribble, or powering inside for a strong finish, rebound, or blocked shot. What made Joe so good was that he was a big guard whose skill and talent allowed him to play multiple positions – 2, 3, and sometimes the 1. Reggie is bigger than Joe, but I’ve seen him stand out playing the 3, 4, and 5. Versatile ballers with size, skill, and athletic talent who can play multiple positions tend to play for a long time while getting paid to do it.

I’m not the only one who sees it that way.

“They (Razorbacks) probably haven’t had a kid as talented as him since Joe Johnson,” said Bill Ingram, chairman of the Arkansas Hawks who’s had the privilege of having both Johnson and Perry in his Hawks program. “We (the Hawks) certainly haven’t had a kid as talented as Reggie in our program since Joe.”

“They’re similar … strong, fluid, they shoot well, and they pass the ball. They can score, but they make everybody else better because they pass the ball.”

Perry is rated No. 9 by HoopSeen, making him a 5-star. He’s also ranked No. 20 by Rivals.com, which puts him on the very cusp of 5-star status according to that service. ESPN, Scout, and 247Sports all rate him in the Top 30-45 range, which is 4-star status. He was dominant on the Adidas Gauntlet grassroots spring/summer tour, then during the Adidas Nations Global event in early August in Anaheim, CA – an event that combined the very best 2017 and 2018 players from the Nike, Under Armor, and Adidas circuits – Perry was one of the standouts.

At least two NBA scouts have mentioned to Ingram that when they watch Perry, they see the NBA in his future. I watched a couple of Perry’s recent games with his Thomasville (GA) Bulldogs online, and he scored 43 points total in 4 consecutive quarters (2nd half vs. Tallahassee Rickards followed by 1st half vs.Tallahassee Godby the next day). He also grabbed more than 30 rebounds total in the 2 games, but was scoring and making plays for others all over the floor.

At the rate he is producing this high school season as a junior — 22.6 points, 15.1 rebounds, 2.6 blocks, 2.4 steals, and 2.1 assists — and with another strong spring/summer with the Arkansas Hawks 17U team, he’s got a great shot at making the 2018 McDonald’s All American game.

Perry’s already a physical specimen at 6-9, and though he does not have ”explosive hops”, he’s strong with long arms, big hands, and is fluid and quick with all kinds of ball skill. Prior to committing to Arkansas, Perry had offers from Florida State, Miami, Iowa State, Florida, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Arizona State, Auburn, Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi State (where his Dad played) … and he was starting to draw interest from Kentucky and Duke in July.

Projection: Reggie Perry is a Day 1 starter at Arkansas, can’t imagine a scenario where he’s not. He’s the kind of talent that other teams have to game plan around because he can do so many things to impact games, so All SEC at some point is a reasonable projection. I think he could play today in the SEC. I’m not saying he’s a 1-and-done kind of talent, but he just might be. Whenever he decides to go pro, I believe he’ll project as a 1st-rounder, and possibly a lottery pick.

Ethan HendersonEthan Henderson, 6-8 power forward, Little Rock Parkview, composite national prospect ranking of No. 57, a 4-star … Hog commit … what you need to know about Ethan first and foremost is that he has excellent length / wingspan, big hands, can jump out of the gym, and he’s quick and light off his feet … huge upside and reminds me some of Derek Hood at the same stage, although Ethan’s motor does not always run as much as Derek’s did.

Ethan’s still a work in progress, especially offensively and the fact he needs to add weight/strength, but defensively he can guard all 5 positions because of his quick feet and agility, and he’s the kind of player whose per-minute rebounding, shot-blocking, and other hustle stats should be very good. Offensively, Henderson is learning to be more of a presence inside, but he has made strides and has a nice post-pin-and-spin move to the basket that is difficult to defend because of how quick he is with the move followed by the explosive finish at the rim.

Henderson had a very productive spring and summer scoring and rebounding for the Arkansas Hawks 16U team … in June, he participated in the the Adidas Nations camp in Miami as one of 30 invitees and he followed that up with participation in the prestigious NBPA Top 100 camp … but he really stepped up his game in July and then early August during the Adidas Global Nations event — he was there with Perry competing against the best of the best from 2017 and 2018 classes from the Nike, Under Armor, and Adidas circuits.

Bill Ingram believes Henderson has only scratched the surface of his potential.

“The sky’s the limit for Ethan,” Ingram said. “He can rebound, block shots, runs the floor, and his length and athleticism allow him to guard multiple positions, really all 5 on the court.”

Which should be very useful in Mike Anderson’s defensive system that requires bigs to switch and guard perimeter players out on the floor. Part of Henderson’s maturation is happening right now playing with the loaded Little Rock Parkview Patriots.

“Ethan has to take a back seat right now playing behind a couple of senior leaders, so there’s a life lesson there that goes along with the lessons learned in basketball,” Ingram said. “What he’s learning now will help him later on.”

Last summer in June, just after the spring portion of the grassroots circuit and just prior to Henderson’s big July, renowned basketball-prospect developer/mentor John Lucas said of him: “When (Ethan) figures it out that you need to play hard all the time to be special — watch out!”

Prior to committing to the Hogs in early September 2016, Henderson had reported offers from Kansas, Notre Dame, LSU, Indiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona State, and Tulsa, and he was drawing recruiting interest from Stanford and Ole Miss.

Projection: Henderson looks like a great fit in Arkansas’s system, and he could end up one of the program’s most productive rebounders and defenders if he stays all 4 years. His length and plus-athleticism would easily make him the Hogs’ most physically gifted 4 right now. Once he puts on weight and develops more offensively, like Bill Ingram said, “the sky’s the limit for Ethan.”

Desi Sills, 6-1 combo guard, Jonesboro, composite national prospect ranking of No. 111, a 4-star … HogDesi Sills commit … There are players who play to play, and there are players who sacrifice and play to win. The latter sums up Desi Sills, who works about as hard as any player I’ve seen both on and off the court to get better. He’s an unselfish player, but a player who wants the ball and relishes crunch time. He’s clutch, a winner.

Sills was consistently good at both ends of the court all spring and summer playing with the Hawks, but he took it to another level in July and turned heads nationally. Often referred to as a lockdown defender, Sills was getting it done offensively, too, and led the Hawks in scoring in the Las Vegas event while also stuffing the stat sheet in rebounds, assists, and steals.

“He and Reggie (Perry) are the two guys on the Hawks that if I had to put them in a college game today, I feel confident they could play,” Ingram said. “Desi is a do-it-all player with a killer instinct.

“He plays the entire game the same way, and he can score in a variety of ways — from 3, mid-range, driving to the basket. Whatever it takes at either end of the floor, he’s the kind of player that looks you in the eye and says ‘I’m coming to get ya.’”

In a recent game against a loaded Little Rock Parkview squad, Sills was making plays all over the court … crashing passing lanes like a safety breaking on a pass, using his speed-dribble to blow by defenders in the open court, whizzing well-placed passes by defenders, and muscling his way to the basket for scores. Unselfish, fearless, and fiercely competitive were the best descriptors for his play that night in Jonesboro.

Sills is averaging 16.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 3.1 steals for Jonesboro (11-0) this season.

Sills committed to the Hogs two days after Perry — on Friday, Aug. 19 — and a week after picking up offers from Missouri, SMU, UALR, and UAB … he was also getting recruiting interest from Virginia, Oklahoma, Gonzaga, Illinois, Utah, Ole Miss, and several other high-major programs.

Projection: Sills’ toughness and resourcefulness remind me of former Arkansas guards Robert Sheppard, Corey Beck, and Patrick Beverley. His size and lefty game might be comparable to current Hog Anton Beard, but Desi is bigger and more athletic, something that Ingram points out. I won’t go so far as to say Sills will be a Day 1 starter, but he is a 4-year player who will be a big part of the continued resurgence of Razorbacks basketball.

Isaiah JoeIsaiah Joe, 6-3.5 SG, Fort Smith Northside / Arkansas Hawks 16U, Class of 2018, composite national ranking of No. 126, a 4-star … Hog commit … this bomber was not only a consistent 3-point shooter for the Hawks and a double-figure scorer for the team throughout the spring and summer, he was probably the one whose development improved the most.

Joe is a solid catch-and-shoot guy who sets his feet and gets his shoulders squared quickly to pull from deep, but he also is very effective shooting off the bounce … volume shooter/scorer who may be the best shooter in the state. He’s underrated defensively … has long arms and quick hands, and has been racking up steals and deflections as a junior at Fort Smith Northside.

“Isaiah’s grown to 6-4 now, he added about 3 or 4 inches in the past year-and-a-half,” Ingram said. “The one thing that stands out about Isaiah is he’s always made shots, and now he’s a clutch shooter. Lots of guys make shots, but only a few can make them in crunch time. Isaiah has gotten to where he wants to shoot and can make it with the game on the line.

“Isaiah’s athleticism and toughness go unnoticed, too. He’ll get steals, take charges, does more than just shoot and score.”

I saw Joe play a couple of times over the holidays in the Coca-Cola tournament at UA-Fort Smith — where he took home MVP honors after leading his Fort Smith Northside Grizzlies (9-4) to the tourney championship — and I was impressed with how smooth, athletic, long, tough, quick, and smart Joe was. He does not force shots, which you don’t often see with volume shooters-scorers, and he truly lets the game come to him.

Joe has a noticeable maturity in his demeanor, both on and off the court. He’s averaging 19.2 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 3.0 steals through 13 games. He’s had a couple of 30-plus-point games this season, and I’m told he’s shooting better than 50% from 3-point range.

Lindy’s Sports ranks Joe the No. 35 player in the nation for 2018, while Scout ranks him a Top 100 4-star and ESPN rates him a 4-star. When Joe committed to the Hogs in early August, he reportedly also held offers from UALR and Alabama, and was getting interest from several other high- and mid-major programs.

Projection: Joe’s shooting and scoring prowess alone will make him an invaluable part of the Hogs’ rotation early in his college career. His maturity and approach to the game will make him an excellent teammate, and I would not be one bit surprised to see him on All SEC teams at some point in his career. He may still be growing, but his current height, length, quick hands, and shooting ability will give SEC teams fits once he see the floor.

Justice Hill, 5-11 PG, Little Rock Christian, Class of 2019, Nat’l No. 66 according to Future150, a 4-starjustice hill prospect … Hog commit … “Juice” is a true point guard in my estimation, but similar to Hog great and point-guard supreme Lee Mayberry, Hill can get buckets at all 3 levels with a combination of athleticism and crafty handles that set him up for good looks at the basket.

Hill is aggressive, a plus-athlete, strong, and very smart with the basketball. He can score above the rim, with an array of impressive mid-range shots, and was confident/efficient from 3 when I saw him at the Real Deal in the Rock early in the spring 2016, then again early on during his current sophomore season at LRC.

But as a facilitator and ball-handler, I’m most impressed with the way Hill plays the game with his head up and eyes surveying the floor. He’s explosive but in control while running the show, and does not force his own offense, so he knows when to pass and when to shoot. Plus, he moves well without the ball. He’s a tenacious on-ball defender who anticipates where the dribbler is going next … quick hands to poke the ball away … great footwork to stay with his man.

“Justice is going to be a great point guard,” Ingram predicted. “He’s a real floor leader, a perfect fit for any team because he’s a natural leader who already understands so much about the game.

“He’s athletic and a super ball-handler, and his jump shot has just gotten better and better.”

Ingram believes Hill is a “new generation leader” because “he doesn’t bark orders or chew players out like floor leaders used to do, he just leads by example and displays positive leadership out on the floor. If he wants his guys to play harder or better, he knows it starts with him and they’ll follow.”

Hill is averaging 17.6 points, 5.5 assists, 3.4 steals, and 3.1 rebounds for LR Christian (8-2). He was already drawing recruiting interest from Stanford, Virginia, Connecticut, and Oklahoma State before committing to the Hogs as a freshman in February 2016.

Projection: Depending on who the Hogs have on the roster to play point guard by the time the 2019-20 season rolls around, I could see Justice being a Day 1 starter. He’s already advanced for his age as a handler, facilitator, and floor leader, so he’s only going to get better over the next 3 years. I think he’s the best pure-PG talent I’ve seen in the mix for the Hogs since guys like Lee Mayberry, Corey Beck, and Kareem Reid. I realize that’s a huge statement, but that’s what I see.

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Kevin McPherson is a former sportswriter and editor at both the Arkansas Gazette and Arkansas Democrat, as well as a former contributor to newspapers in Northwest Arkansas — covering Arkansas Razorbacks basketball, high school football and basketball, and basketball recruiting. He’s entering his 13th year as a mortgage banker with Bank of England, but he still covers Razorback basketball and recruiting as well as high school sports. You can join him live every Monday and Thursday at 1:30 CST on The Hog Call, KREB 1190 The Fan in Northwest Arkansas by clicking here: http://1190thefan.com/listen-live/ You can also follow him live on Twitter @ARHoopScoop.

Reggie Perry Hogs Basketball Recruiting

 

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