By Otis Kirk
FAYETTEVILLE — Eric Musselman’s Arkansas squad will get a headstart on the 2022-23 basketball season when they play four games on an 11-day trip in Italy and Spain.
The team will depart Fayetteville on Aug. 6 and arrive in Valencia, Spain on Aug. 7. The first game will be in Valencia on Aug. 9. Then in two days the Hogs will play a game in Madrid. The third game will be Aug. 12 also in Madrid. The fourth and only game in Italy will be Aug. 14 in Lake Como, Italy. On Friday, Musselman met with reporters to discuss the trip.
“Obviously the amount of practice times that you’re able to do,” Musselman said. “The 10 practices leading up to the trip will really be beneficial to us. But the games will be really beneficial as well. I’ve been a part of a couple of these. One with Arizona State when we went to China and then at Nevada, we went to Costa Rica. And I thought it benefitted the players.
“But it’s good for everybody to get some chemistry on the floor. It’s really good for the coaches to get play different rotations and look at different combinations. Both offensively and defensively. It forces you to have a lot more stuff in schematically knowing that you have four games coming up. So I think it’s really good for a lot of different reasons.”
Musselman welcomes 11 new players to the team with only Davonte Davis and Kamani Johnson back from last year’s squad that reached the Elite 8 for the second year in a row. Musselman feels this time together will be a good for team bonding as well.
“Yeah. I think it’s going to be great for that,” Musselman said. “We try to do a lot of stuff bonding-wise in a short amount of time. I think the guys have been over to my house maybe three times already. We’re going boxing today as a team. And we’ll continue with that theme on Fridays to try to do some unique non-basketball activities now that we’re all together. This is our first Friday where the entire team is here.
“But certainly getting on an airplane, traveling that far, knowing that the basketball, once we got on the trip will be very, very limited. I do think this team has become really close in a really short amount of time, especially with the thought that there’s only two returners. I think the 11 new guys — although Anthony (Black) just got here — have done a great job of bonding on their own away from the coaching staff.”
In addition to this trip, the Razorbacks will face Baylor in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. In addition to the Hogs will play Oklahoma and three games in Maui making for a tough non-conference portion of the schedule.
“The schedule’s going to end up being pretty hard,” Musselman said. “It’s random, but I’m sure when the SEC schedule comes out they’ll be some really challenging games. I think when you’re able to make two Elite Eights, you’re going to end up with some non-conference games like we have.
“If you look at Maui and the field of Arizona, Cincinnati Creighton, Louisville, Ohio State, San Diego State, Texas Tech, you’ve got the game in Tulsa against Oklahoma. And we know how they kicked out butts last year in Tulsa. And then a Baylor road game, knowing that in that Challenge we’ve played really well at home over the last four years or whatever, maybe longer than that I guess, and struggled a little bit on the road.”
The last time the men’s program played in Europe was in 2016 when the Razorbacks traveled to Spain (Madrid, Albacete and Barcelona) to play four games in 10 days. Before that, Arkansas played in Italy prior to the 2012-13 season.