FAYETTEVILLE – With Arkansas freshman reserve point guard KK Robinson out for the season (surgery to repair broken foot), starting forward Justin Smith still rehabbing from ankle surgery and transfer Abayomi “Bay-Bay” Iyiola idled since preseason by knee surgery, the Razorbacks are down to nine active men’s scholarship players.
Coach Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks, 10-2 overall/2-2 in the SEC going into Wednesday night’s SEC game at LSU, 8-2, 3-1, often played with just nine scholarship players last season while going 20-12 and one game deep into the SEC Tournament before the covid-19 pandemic last March cancelled all 2020 spring semester college sports.
“Ideally you’d like to have as many players as possible available,” Musselman said during his Monday press conference. It’s no big deal. As long as we’ve got seven (players) we’re good.”
The Razorbacks have used three practice player walk-ons, Emeka Obukwelu, Brandon Kimble and Bryson Moorhead, mopping up four lopsided victories.
Smith’s absence was estimated three to six weeks when it was disclosed on Jan. 2 he underwent surgery on the ankle he injured during the Dec. 30 SEC victory at Auburn.
What’s his progress now?
“He met with the doctors on Saturday,” Musselman said. “We’d like him to start to try to come back. I think he did do the underwater treadmill. As of today (Monday) he hasn’t done anything with us. He hasn’t skeletoned or dry run our offense or non-contact. He has not done any of that up to today. Before he plays he’s gonna have to at least for a day or two, he’s gonna have to cut and do some things non contact and then get into contact.”
Iyiola, redshirted last season transferring from Stetson University and then injuring his anterior cruciate ligament during the 2020 preseason, has been seen shooting baskets at Walton Arena after the court is cleared postgame.
“Bay-bay’s just been working really hard,” Musselman said. “But he’s still got a few things that the doctor would like from a strength standpoint. He’s getting close. I would probably guess we’re looking at in a month is when I think he’ll be … maybe February, first week or two in February is when I think he’ll be cleared.”
Robinson had logged 92 minutes off the bench in the 11 games prior to watching last Saturday’s 99-69 victory over Georgia in street-clothes after an MRI revealed his ailing right foot has a fracture.
“It is a blow,” Musselman said of losing Robinson. “All of our freshmen continue to develop. And KK has had an incredible work ethic behind closed doors. So it changes our practice pretty significantly, because now his reps will go to Devo (Davis, the freshman guard who started with regulars point guard Jalen Tate and off guard Moses Moody against Georgia) at that backup or third point guard. Obviously JD (Notae, the sixth-man combo guard) is going to play more point guard now without KK.”
Forward Kamani Johnson, transferring in December from the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, practices but has not been granted a NCAA waiver that would allow him to be game eligible before the 2021-2022 season.
“We haven’t heard either way,” Musselman said. “We understand that’s a process and we don’t really have any control over it. But he’s practicing and working hard and in the middle of his player development stuff.”
While the Razorbacks work through absences, LSU Coach Will Wade is concerned about his Tigers’ leading scorer.
Freshman guard Cameron Thomas, averaging 22.3 points per game, exited four minutes into LSU’s 75-61 victory over Ole Miss last Saturday in Oxford, Miss., returned briefly, then was withheld as LSU dominated without him.
Wade said the injury did not seem serious long term but deemed Thomas “questionable,” for Wednesday’s game tipping off a 6 p,m. on ESPN2 at LSU’s Maravich Center.