It is pretty much the consensus opinion in Arkansas across the country Eric Musselman has gotten Razorback basketball relevant way faster than expected.
Over the last quarter of a century, the program went from the penthouse to the just an average room.
A big part of it is the approach Musselman takes with this team.
“I haven’t changed our preparation with a college team one iota from how I prepared an NBA team,” he said this week from Indianapolis while going stir crazy waiting on Friday morning’s game.
Recruits notice things like that. From the getting ready standpoint, not many in college basketball can get them ready for the next level better than Musselman.
And it goes far beyond getting them to jump higher or shoot better.
“NBA players are really smart,” Musselman said.
In today’s NBA players don’t last long playing a game, then partying all night, getting up and being ready to go for a game the next night. Getting ready for the next game is quick and puts a load on the players.
“We set the bar really, really high from the first game of the season with our preparation,” Musselman said. “They know they have to digest a lot of stuff. They get quizzed a lot.
“I’ll text guys individually about matchups. So whatever your team is used to. Our team is used to the fact that they’re going to get asked a lot of questions. They’re going to be put on the spot in front of their peers.”
Nolan Richardson put his players through such a physical grind, playing in the games was almost a welcome relief. With Musselman it seems once the players learn to trust the preparation and see how it works in games, they can relax and just play.
It’s something Musselman has developed through years of coaching at the biggest level down to the professional version of AAU ball in the G League and watching how championship level football coaches prepare a team.
Somehow he’s managed to condense all of that down to something the players can grasp. The guess from a basketball no-nothing is it’s easier to do at the college level because they don’t play many games on consecutive nights.
Give Musselman at least 24 hours and he’s going to have a team prepared.
“(The players) are going to know at halftime that there’s a great chance we’ll make an adjustment on something that we haven’t worked on and they’re going to have to be able to take it from the chalkboard to the floor,” Musselman this week. “Those are some of the expectations we’ve set forth from Day 1 of the season. They also know that we’re going to adjust game to game, that we don’t just practice the same thing every day.”
It’s not a one size fits all type of plan. The players have discovered it’s adjusted for the team they’re playing.
“Every team presents its own unique set of dilemmas that you’ve got to work on and we’re going to game plan game to game,” Musselman said. “Our game plan is going to be different this game than it was prior to the LSU game because the personnel we’re playing against has different strengths.”
It takes the freshmen a month or so to figure out.
“Early in the year, a lot of our younger players when you put together game plans that maybe they’re not used to that might have had a little bit to do with minutes early on the year,” Musselman said. “There is a learning curve for any high school player to play college, but then there’s even more of a learning curve with the system you’re playing in.”
But the result is by the time you get to this point of the season they’ve learned how an NBA team prepares … but they are playing against other college players.
Musselman hasn’t changed anything from his NBA days.
“If you looked at my Golden State Warrior playbook and you look at the Arkansas Razorback playbook, it’s identical,” he said. “We’ve added a few wrinkles, obviously, but it’s the same playbook.
“I could take that playbook and just slap a different logo on it and we’re expecting college players to do exactly what we’ve done at that level. I think it’s really challenging form a mental standpoint.”
Now he just needs to add some wins to things and he’s got a really good sales pitch to high school recruits.
And beating Colgate today would be a good way to start that ball rolling.