FAYETTEVILLE — As the University of Arkansas kick off their European tour with an exhibition game today against Valencia Seleccion in Spain, one thing on Razorbacks coach Eric Musselman’s mind will be the 3-point shot by Kendall Stephens.
Stephens is not one of 11 newcomers from Arkansas. He’s not an American playing for Valencia Seleccion.
When Musselman coached in Nevada and took the Wolf Pack on an overseas tour to Costa Rica in August 2017, Stephens was a 6-6 transfer from Purdue who had hit 175 3-pointers in three seasons with the Boilermakers.
But Stephens couldn’t throw the ball into the ocean from a beach in Costa Rica as Musselman remembers.
“Kendall Stevens was 0 for Costa Rica,” Musselman said. “I think it was 0 for 16 out of three.
“I’ll never forget, everyone was dressed up, it was right after a game and the only place we could meet was in the shower. We were all in there, and I asked Kendall if he was never going to make a 3-point shot in a Nevada Wolf Pack uniform.
Stephens responded by hitting 126 of 292 3-pointers to help Nevada to a 29-8 record and a berth in the NCAA Sweet 16 Tournament. He broke the Mountain West Conference single-season record of 124 3-pointers that Jimmer Fredette hit for BYU during the 2010-11 season where he was the National Player of the Year.
The lesson from this story, Musselman said, is that he expects to learn a lot about his team in their four exhibition games in Spain and Italy, he can’t overreact to one thing that could happen before the start of the regular season.
“I think it’s good, but it will never leave my mind, that it’s just one piece of a long jigsaw leading up to November,” Musselman said. “Then that puzzle continues to evolve once you get – as we’ve seen our team evolve – in January and February.
“But is the trip important? Absolutely. And that’s important for a lot of things. It is important for families. The wives who sacrifice us by being away all the time, so they feel part of a long, long road trip out of the country.
Along with the family, all staff also travel with the team, including those working in academia and nutrition.
“It’s our whole family doing this thing, which isn’t always our way of traveling,” Musselman said.
Arkansas’ 15 players have been on campus and training for most of the summer, including 10 large-scale workouts over the previous two weeks, NCAA-sanctioned for teams going on tour at home. ‘foreign.
But having the players together overseas takes their closeness to another level.
“For me, this is more than a basketball trip,” said first-year forward Jordan Walsh. “It’s a team-building trip.”
Since the team’s arrival in Valencia on Sunday, the Razorbacks basketball Twitter account has featured photos of the players touring the city and playing football in the Mediterranean Sea.
“I feel like it’s a journey that really helps us connect,” first-year goaltender Barry Dunning said. “Connection and teamwork all lead to March, and that’s where we’re trying to get to, this Final Four.
“I feel like this trip is going to be for the good of the team.”
Senior forward Jalen Graham is a transfer from Arizona State, where his regular season opener was against Colorado in Shanghai, China to open the 2019-20 season.
Colorado beat Arizona State 81-71 in a game that was part of the global Pac-12 Conference initiative with China.
“The experiences you get with your teammates on these types of trips are just so helpful throughout the year,” said Graham, who started against Colorado and had 6 points, 5 blocked shots and 3 rebounds in 28 minutes. “You bond with everyone. You see yourself so much.
Playing basketball against other teams — even if the games don’t count against the Razorbacks’ record — also counts.
“One thing I’m looking forward to is just being able to play,” first-year goaltender Nick Smith said. “I’ve been training all this time. I just want to play.
“I’m sure everyone in the team wants to play. We are tired of fighting, tired of training. We want to play against new bodies.
Foreign teams usually have players in their late twenties and early thirties.
“I want to be able to play against these grown men,” Walsh said. “Hopefully that can be my future eventually. I want to play against these older, more mature people.
Unlike Arkansas’ intensive scouting staff for regular-season opponents, Musselman said he doesn’t know much about the teams the Razorbacks will face in Spain and Italy.
“Our scouting will be after the game,” he said of the Razorbacks’ assessment. “We’re going to take the film and coach our guys on the film we have, but we’re not going to worry [about scouting opponents] at all.
“I’ll go into every game with a rotation script, and we’ll go into every game with a script of what we want to run offensively. We’ll have a script of how we want to play.
“The last five, six, seven minutes, maybe by then we will adjust. But I don’t think we’ll make many adjustments probably before the end of each game.
Then, after each game, Musselman could think more about Kendall Stephens and his 3-point shot.