In-State Recruits Make Van Horn, Arkansas Elite

Most of the University of Arkansas Athletic Department is envious of Dave Van Horn. While the goal of Arkansas coaches is to “build a fence” around the state, Van Horn is the most successful.

His biggest competition in landing in-state recruits isn’t LSU, Mississippi State or South Carolina, it’s Major League Baseball. Last year Jacksonville phenom D’Vonne McClure chose a payday over the college life. Ben Wells, a flame-throwing pitcher from Bryant did the same thing in 2010. Still, Van Horn convinces most high-profile prospects (and there are more and more each year) to head to Fayetteville.

The 2013 class includes Mountain Home pitcher Trey Killian, who was a third-team All-American. Killian saw action in Arkansas’ season opener against Western Illinois. Catcher Blake Baxendale, the younger brother of star pitcher D.J. Baxendale ranked as the 233rdranked prospect in the nation and No. 4 in Arkansas by Perfect Game. Arkadelphia pitcher Garrett Rucker earned honorable mention All-American honors and made the Perfect Game Top 500 and ranked No. 6 in Arkansas.

The 2013 class includes 10 Arkansans, including three transfers. Van Buren native Tyler Spoon is also a part of the class after redshirting last season. He claimed a starting spot on the Opening Day roster after making a splash in the Alaska Baseball League last summer. Spoon, a three-sport standout at Van Buren, hit .283 with a team-leading 10 runs and 33 RBI. He also led the team in hits and doubles (11). Baseball America ranked him the No. 2 prospect in the league while Perfect Game ranked him No. 5.

Sixteen of the 40 players on the roster hail from “The Natural State.”  Three players with Arkansas ties played in the opener, two started (Alma’s Matt Vinson and Spoon). Bryant pitcher Trent Daniel (took the loss) started against Western Illinois on Sunday. Van Buren’s Brandon Moore looks to be a solid contributor again after finishing 5-2 last year in 29 appearances.

Before the season ends (most likely in the College World Series) several Arkansans could have a hand in the success.  During his tenure Van Horn has magnificently blended home grown talent with players from across the country. The result is three College World Series appearances since 2003 and a CWS finals appearance last spring.

The SEC is as competitive, if not more so, in baseball than in football (that is saying a lot), and Arkansas has now worked its way into the upper echelon. The program boasts one of the nation’s better facilities and coaching staffs. There have been times that in-state prospects in other sports have had to look elsewhere to find an elite program. The Razorbacks football teams have enjoyed success, but are on a different plane that Alabama and LSU. The Hogs lost star running back Altee Tenpenny to the Crimson Tide this year, in part due to a run of two out of three seasons ending in national titles.

The football Hogs aren’t on that level. Bobby Petrino had them in the direction until his motorcycle crashed into a ditch. The Razorback basketball team was at the pinnacle in the mid-90s, but isn’t mentioned in the same sentence with Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina anymore. Mike Anderson hopes to change that, and the signing of Hall forward and McDonald’s All-American, Bobby Portis, is a start. Last year Coach Mike Anderson lost Sylvan Hills star Archie Goodwin to UK. A crop of talented young players is coming, and if Anderson can show the same mastery as Van Horn, the hoop hogs could again make deep NCAA Tournament runs.

The Arkansas women for some reason have always had difficulty landing in-state prospects. This year boasted a spectacular group, but currently the Hogs haven’t signed one in-state recruit. Jacksonville’s Jessica Jackson had committed, but now is deciding between Arkansas, UK, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Georgia, Texas A&M and others. Head coach Tom Collen has done a good job, but not enough to keep Hall’s Tyler Scaife, one of the top recruits in the nation, from heading to Rutgers.

When comparing programs, it’s no secret why baseball is ahead. Van Horn brings stability, which has lacked sourly in men’s basketball. Van Horn’s lengthy tenure and success has won over Arkansas prep players and coaches alike. Baseball is challenged only by track and field as the most stable with the ability to nab the highest profile recruits.

Van Horn has done most of the hard work. He has built a powerhouse program, which has strong support. His gem of a facility keeps undergoing upgrades, and the seats are full. The only thing missing is a national championship. If that comes soon, it will only enhance recruiting and may be enough to even sway MLB prospects to spend at least a year or two in their home state before turning pro.

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