Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson enters his sixth year squarely on the hot seat. That’s what happens when you have one NCAA Tournament appearance in five seasons at a school that, fairly or not, expects to compete for national championships in basketball. It’s been done before, after all.
So the Razorbacks, as you might have expected, have loaded up on “immediate impact” players — but those players aren’t freshmen. Brachen Hazen, a 6’8”, 195-pound forward from Fort Wayne, Indiana, who prepped at Columbia City High School, is the highest-rated of three freshmen for the Razorbacks.
And 247 Sports rated him as a three-star recruit, the #260 prospect in the Class of 2016 (and the #52 small forward.) Rivals likewise tabbed him as a three-star recruit, and he didn’t make the Rivals 150. ESPN is relatively high on him — and still rated him as the #45 small forward in the country. His offer list — Clemson, Creighton, and Maryland, to go along with a bunch of mid-majors — doesn’t read like that of a potential impact freshman in the Southeastern Conference. Hazen signed with UCF in the fall, then re-opened his recruitment after Donnie Jones got fired, and after taking an unofficial visit to Vanderbilt (new coach Bryce Drew offered him a scholarship at Valpo, but apparently didn’t offer him at Vanderbilt) wound up signing with the Razorbacks toward the end of April.
The short version of all that: Mike Anderson is banking on a bunch of transfers to fill the gaps around Moses Kingsley and Dusty Hannahs. Hazen, along with the other two freshmen, likely won’t be expected to contribute immediately.
Highlight film for Brachen Hazen:
What the film shows is a guy who’s pretty polished for a big man, but he’s not an elite athlete. Big men with polish but who lack elite length or athleticism don’t have a great track record when they get into the Southeastern Conference: ask Missouri fans about the difference between the SEC and the Big 12 or Big Ten, and one of the most common answers is that SEC teams tend to have a lot more athleticism at the forward and center positions (if less polish, perhaps) than their counterparts in the Midwest.
In other words, at the very least there’s going to be a pretty significant learning curve for Hazen in the SEC.
How does he fit onto the roster? The good news for Arkansas is that, if Hazen isn’t ready to contribute as a freshman, they may not need him to. Colorado transfer Dustin Thomas is eligible this year after sitting out a year, and junior college transfer Arlando Cook is more likely to provide immediate help on the wing. And of course the Razorbacks are good to go inside with Moses Kingsley returning.
Hazen will see some playing time in blowouts, and he’ll function as emergency depth if anybody gets hurt. But Mike Anderson likely won’t be counting on him, or the other two freshman, to make significant contributions in 2016-17.