It was in the last few games, that I felt for the first time that Gafford was a mature basketball player that knew exactly what his strengths and weaknesses are. He is no longer trying to find himself.
Next year he will dominate not just SEC, but the entire college basketball and deliver that magical season for Arkansas and Mike Anderson and change the conversation upside down on chat boards and talk shows.
But unfortunately for most of us, if not all, that is not going to happen, is it? Portis left with unfinished business after promising to follow Corliss’s path. I will never get over that, Gafford did not make promises like Portis, but the ending is kind of similar.
Nolan spoke on this when he was on the air the other day, that’s what has really killed any momentum we ever get. It seems like as soon as guys get on draft radars at Arkansas they leave.
Started with BJ Young and Marshawn Powell. BJ started off after his freshman year as probably a late first early second rounder, he had in his mind he was gone no matter what he did his sophomore year, and we lost a guy that wasn’t even projected as a second round pick anymore. Powell with a year of eligibility left and he wasn’t on any draft boards either. Those are 2 all SEC caliber players with no chance of getting drafted leaving early. Imagine if those guys stayed and went along with Portis, Clarke, and those guys, we were an NIT team that year, with those guys we’re at least a tournament team with a decent seeding.
Then fast forward to Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls. Now, Portis he was projected by some sites as a lottery pick, so you can’t get too upset about him leaving, most kids that are projected in the lottery do leave early. Michael Qualls on the other hand, even before the injury he was projected as a mid-late second rounder. You rarely see guys that has their stock still rising leave early to be a late second rounder, because most know if any little thing goes wrong you’re going undrafted, Qualls is still trying to work his way to an NBA roster. Again, with Qualls and Williams not getting in trouble on that 15-16 team, that’s another team that’s at least a tournament team.
Now you look at Gafford. He’s still projected as a first rounder, but his stock has took a bit of a hit, on another site a guy researched every mock site and did an average and it was 24. So, that’s a late first rounder. You see some schools catch breaks on kids that are projected late first rounders that still can improve their stock. I know schools like Villanova and Gonzaga always seem to catch breaks in this regard, they always have guys that are in that late first/early second round range that seem to always come back every year. Kentucky caught a huge break when PJ Washington decided to come back he was around that range, now he may win SEC POY.
For Arkansas to get where we wanna be we’re going to have to catch a break on some of our elite players. Maybe Joe ends up being that kid, and sticks around 4 years and we make some nice tournament runs his junior and senior year. But as of right now, as Nolan said, every time we build up, we end up losing those guys early, then have to go back to the drawing board.
I truly believe Mike needs that one break to take us to the very high level. I will say it again that Eddie got that break with the triplets (all Arkansas born) at just the right time and Nolan got a break with Memphis State getting in trouble at just the right time. Mike is due one. Until the fat lady sings, I will keep hoping Gafford is that.