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Eric Musselman, players on talented freshmen, team in summer camp

What Eric Musselman, Davonte Davis, Ricky Council, said at Friday’s press conference on summer practices, how freshmen look.

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas’ Davonte Davis sees what this team could become

You got the idea Friday that vision is beyond what they’ve accomplished in his first two seasons.

“They potential is there,” Davis said Friday morning in the first media appearance of summer practices. “All it takes after that is work.”

Razorbacks coach Eric Musselman may be taking care of that, with an emphasis on defense and some talented freshmen looking like leaders.

It’s all positives with star freshmen Nick Smith, Anthony Black and Jordan Walsh. Each of them have had some eye-opening moments in summer workouts.

Smith is the highest-ranked freshman ever for the Hogs.

And he hasn’t disappointed.

“The one thing with Nick is just his leadership, his toughness and how hard he goes,” Musselman said Friday. “You just don’t have a guy his age walk into a college practice and is really, really vocal from the get-go. He’s certainly done that.”

Walsh is another one that has certainly had his share of moments that obviously left the coaches talking after practice.

“He’s like a violent defender because of his aggressiveness,” Musselman said of Walsh. “We want him to continue with that mentality defensively but also play within the concepts that we’re putting in so that he stays out of foul trouble.”

With Musselman, anybody that gets two fouls in the first half gets a longer break because he’s on the bench until after the break. That’s become something of a thing Razorback fans have grown accustomed to seeing.

It’s what Musselman is working to eliminate with Walsh.

“He’s so aggressive defensively sometimes he can put himself where he tries to stab at the ball,” he said. “You’d much rather have a player be over-aggressive than under-aggressive and he innately is an overly-aggressive defender.”

That’s a lot of big words strung together, but the layman’s point of view is he doesn’t need to reach for the ball but don’t stop being aggressive.

Defense has been the biggest positive coming out out of whatever trickle of information leaks out of these summer practices.

Getting the freshmen to be able to play defense down low is the key and Walsh is going to have to hit the weight room. It’s an area where some of the bigger, experienced transfers will contribute the most.

“That’s the last piece of the puzzle,” Musselman said. “To be able to switch 1-through-5 so everybody can go down there and front the post. That’s where we would like to eventually get to.”

Although he was a little late to summer practices, arriving earlier this week, Black has made a huge impression in a short time.

“He comes in and literally knew almost our entire playbook that we put in so far,” Musselman said about Black, who was playing for gold-medal Team USA at the FIBA U18 Americas Championships in Tijuana, Mexico. “Kind of speechless.”

That is an achievement right there. Muss is rarely at a loss for words.

“He literally was asking about third and fourth options on the plays and we’ve got some guys that have been here since Day 1 that are still trying to figure out the second option,” Musselman said about Black.

In the time he spent hanging out with the Oakland Raiders and some other football teams when he was between jobs, Musselman saw something similar.

“Almost like a quarterback room,” he said. “That’s what I thought I was in. I thought I was with an NFL veteran QB who was asking questions and had just missed a couple of OTAs or something.”

Black brings something special to the offensive side of this team.

“I’ve only been around him for 45 minutes on the floor yesterday,” Musselman said, “but I think guys are going to enjoy playing with him, and he’s got a high IQ. He plays both sides of the ball.”

But like the other freshmen, they will have to adapt to the college game in the weight room because, well, it’s a little different.

“We’re asking a lot of our strength and conditioning program this summer to try to get six players up to speed,” Musselman said.

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