Recruiting, Coaching Carousel – The Other March Madness



Once mid-March arrives, everyone knows that March Madness begins as the 68-team field gears up for the gauntlet that is the NCAA national championship tournament, while fans across the country fill out their brackets for office pools and online competitions.

But as part of the insanity, the coaching carousel gets cranked up, as well as the announcements by college players who intend to transfer and high-school prospects who will sign in the spring period. It’s the other face of March Madness that takes a back seat to the Dance, but the landscape of the 2017-18 season will shift and change based on coaching and player movement over the next few weeks.

A couple of moves this week that will affect Arkansas schools and players …

* On Monday, Arkansas State head coach Grant McCasland accepted the head coaching job at the University of North Texas.

* As a result on Tuesday, Jonesboro point guard and ASU signee Marquis Eaton announced he had been granted permission by the Red Wolves to re-open his recruitment. Now, he has not requested a release from his national letter of intent that he signed in the November early signing period, but he is able to contact and visit other schools at this time. More on Eaton a bit later.

* Today (Wed., March 15), former Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin resigned from California and agreed to a 7-year deal to become the men’s basketball head coach at Missouri. Martin was last seen in the SEC leading the Vols to the Sweet 16 in 2013-14 before bolting to the Pac-12 and Cal, where he spent 3 seasons while signing some top-shelf high-school prospects.

In addition to keeping an eye on Cal signings/commitments to see if they request a transfer/release to follow Martin to Tennessee, fans in Arkansas might also want to stay tuned to Van Buren’s Mitchell Smith, a 6-9 freshman this season at Mizzou who at one time held an offer from the Razorbacks. Smith may be happy where he is, but whenever there is coaching change, it’s common for players to look at what else might be out there.

Back to Eaton: Among the schools who offered him a scholarship prior to his signing with ASU in November — Little Rock, Tulsa, Stetson, and North Carolina-Asheville — the Trojans and UNCA have already quickly stepped up to re-offer Eaton a scholarship. He can take 3 visits.

A report on Twitter indicated that schools such as Virginia, Kansas State, Utah, Memphis, and Colorado have inquired about Eaton.

As for the Hogs, Arkansas coaches are now aware that Eaton has re-opened his recruitment. It remains to be seen what level of interest, if any, Arkansas shows. The Hogs have one scholarship to fill to close out their 2017 class, and among their chief needs are front-line players and a point guard, so a look at Eaton might be worth investing some time.

A source close to the situation told me Eaton is looking for an up-tempo fit, and a school where he “can possibly play from day one.” He has not ruled out honoring his LOI with ASU, and logic suggests the Red Wolves’ next hire will play a big part in what he decides.

Eaton is a 6-2 point guard who earned All State honors while leading Jonesboro to a perfect season (32-0) and the 6A state title. Eaton was named title-game MVP after Jonesboro defeated El Dorado last Friday.

Update on 2017 Hog offer Zhaire Smith: The 6-foot-5 combo forward with a 6-9 wingspan from Garland, TX, confirmed he will take one of his three remaining official visits this weekend (March 17-19) to the University of Texas, then follow that up with an official visit to Texas Tech on the following weekend (March 24-26).

Smith has indicated he may take his last OV to Fayetteville later in March. His Hog recruitment has been a bit of a whirlwind.

He played in his final game at Lakeview Centennial High School with Head Hog Mike Anderson and assistant coach Scotty Thurman in attendance roughly three weeks ago, then he took an unofficial visit to Fayetteville for Arkansas’ regular-season finale against Georgia on March 4, and after remaining in town overnight for a meeting with Anderson on March 5, Smith emerged with an offer to become the Hogs’ final piece to their 2017 recruiting haul.

On top of that, Anderson and Thurman traveled to Garland on March 7 to do an in-home visit with Smith, who said the visit “went great.”

“Glad they came, sat down, and had a good talk with my family,” Smith said just after the in-home visit.

Smith, who also has offers from Georgia Tech, Kansas State, Memphis, Texas Tech, and Little Rock among others, took an unofficial visit to Texas the weekend prior to his stop in Fayetteville. He has already taken 2 of his NCAA-allotted 5 official visits, including an OV with the Little Rock Trojans.

Smith maintains he does not have a “leader” for his services on the college level. But with the spring signing period beginning in mid-April, that should change soon.

“No, I don’t have any leaders right now,” Smith said earlier this week when asked about the teams that have offered or shown interest.

Smith’s family has ties to Thurman, who is his lead recruiter.

“My Dad and uncle grew up with coach Thurman in Jonesboro, LA,” Smith said.

Smith, who is ranked composite national No. 137 / a 4-star, was impressed with his experience during his visit with the Hogs on March 4.

“It was great … loved the atmosphere & crowd,” he said at the time. “The (Georgia) game was great. They (Hogs) came out like a championship team in the second half.”

Arkansas signed 3 in-state players for the 2017 class in the November early signing period — all 4-star recruits in Daniel Gafford of El Dorado, Khalil Garland of Little Rock Parkview, and Darious Hall of Little Rock Mills. Adding Smith would be another 4-star prospect in the haul.

Update on 2018 Hog offer Rodgerick Brown: The 6-6 combo forward from Cordova, TN, said this week that the Hogs are still the leader for his services.

“Nothing has changed,” Rodgerick Brown said regarding his preference. “I still talk regularly with (Arkansas assistant coach) TJ Cleveland.”

Brown, who averaged a double-double as a freshman, sophomore, and junior at Cordova, said he’s still putting in the work even though his high school season is over.

“I’ve been training to get better,” he said.

Brown plays for Team Thad on the Under Armor grassroots basketball circuit, and he has indicated that he will make a decision on a school sometime in the summer. His reported offers include Arkansas, Penn State, Tulsa, Chattanooga, and Middle Tennessee State, with Tennessee and Memphis showing strong interest. Belmont has also recently entered the picture.

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Wrapping up the 2016-17 Arkansas high school hoops season: We’re not quite ready yet to unveil our @ARHoopScoop / final Arkansas Top 10, All Arkansas teams, Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, state finals review, etc. We’re going to release those in about a week.

However, the annual Metro Classic on Tuesday night offered up fun and opportunities for the 501 ballers to showcase their skills and talents for fans in Central Arkansas one more time. Here were the takeaways …

Team Cooper (coached by Little Rock Mills head coach Raymond Cooper) defeated Team Flanigan (led by LR Parkview HC Al Flanigan) in a shootout, 129-120, at the Pulaski Academy gym.

Jacksonville senior point guard Tyree Appleby earned MVP honors for the winners, scoring 32 points, including 26 in the second half when he hit 8 three-pointers. He got in a groove from distance and hit 6 of those triples in a row.

“It felt good because it (the 3-point outburst) was in the home city” Appleby said. “Once I hit one, it was one after another.”

Maumelle senior combo guard Tremont Robinson was the MVP for Team Flanigan, scoring 24 points at all 3 levels.

Both Appleby and Robinson are unsigned and currently weighing their college options.

2017 Hog signee Khalil Garland, the 6-5 combo guard from Parkview, had a double-double for Team Flanigan — 13 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals, and a blocked shot. His future Hog teammate, Darious Hall, was in attendance as a spectator but unable to play after suffering a “jammed toe” the day before in a workout.

More Team Cooper top performers: 2017 UA-Fort Smith signee Jeremiah Toney of Mills had 20 points; Little Rock Central senior shooting guard / wing Cameron Johnson also had a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds; North Little Rock senior guard Jarvis Ricks scored 19 points; and Little Rock Hall senior swingman Antonio Smith chipped in 12 points.

More Team Flanigan top performers: 2017 national Top 150 prospect Javon Franklin of Parkview had 22 points; North Little Rock senior forward Deion Dobbins scored 16 points; and Central senior forward Raekwon Rogers scored 10 points.

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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: You can also follow him live on Twitter @ARHoopScoop.

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