Arkansas basketball’s three biggest needs to fill out John Calipari’s first roster

NCAA Basketball

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — A change in scenery is bringing a change in identity for Arkansas basketball coach John Calipari.

During a 15-year run at Kentucky, Calipari relied heavily on freshmen and typically put together rosters filled with depth. He also avoided a head-first dive into the transfer portal when it opened in 2018.

Calipari is shifting his tendencies early in his Razorbacks tenure. He had limited options with zero scholarship players upon arrival, but Calipari has already gone into the transfer portal and caught two big fish in Johnell Davis and Jonas Aidoo. He’s also landed a pair of Kentucky transfers — Adou Thiero and Zvonimir Ivišić — to help ease the transition.

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With three elite high school recruits in the fold, Calipari now has seven scholarship players. Normally, he’d still have the second half of his roster to finalize, but Calipari told former Oregon State head coach Craig Robinson on his “Ways to Win” podcast that he only wants eight or nine players on the team.

John Calipari arrives at Drake Field after being officially announced as the next head coach of the Arkansas basketball program.
John Calipari arrives at Drake Field after being officially announced as the next head coach of the Arkansas basketball program.

“They’re leaving anyway and why would I develop a kid for someone else? Why would I do that?” Calipari asked Robinson.

Barring a change in approach from Calipari, that leaves only a couple of spots remaining for his inaugural season in Fayetteville. Here’s a look at the biggest needs remaining for the former Kentucky coach at Arkansas.

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Point Guard

Arkansas doesn’t have a true point guard, making this the biggest hole on the roster. Davis and incoming freshman Boogie Fland could play the position, but they’re better fit off the ball and would benefit from having a more proven distributor sharing the floor.

Former Kentucky point guard DJ Wagner recently visited Fayetteville and could easily fill this void. He was the No. 6 prospect in the entire country coming out of Camden High School in 2023 and he’s got terrific vision and ball-handling with a first step that puts defenses on their heels.

If Wagner surprises everyone and spurns the Razorbacks, this becomes a major concern. There aren’t many high-quality options still in the portal. Calipari would have to get creative and probably rely on Fland to spend heavy minutes at point guard.

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A complimentary big man

The Hogs already have 7-footers Aidoo and Ivišić in the fold, and Thiero can play the four in smaller lineups. Still, Arkansas needs one more big man to provide enough frontcourt depth to combat potential foul trouble.

South Florida transfer Kaesean Pryor was a reported target, but he recently committed to Louisville. Pryor would immediately have competed to be in the starting rotation, but Calipari would do fine by just adding a bench piece to the rotation.

Three-point shooting

Arkansas only has two elite shooters on the roster in Davis and Fland. There’s potential for Karter Knox and Ivišić to develop into capable scorers from three-point range, but that’s not their strength.

Stretching the floor is becoming more important every year in college basketball. Purdue and UConn, the two teams that played for a national title in April, both had four shooters surrounding dominant centers. Arkansas needs more juice from beyond the arc.

It would be a massive coup for Calipari if the eventual point guard and frontcourt additions can add shooting to the roster. Unfortunately, Wagner was 29.2% from three last season. To get all three of these needs in the fold, Calipari might have to exceed his ideal nine-player limit.

This article originally appeared on Fort Smith Times Record: 3 biggest needs remaining for John Calipari’s first Arkansas roster

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