FAYETTEVILLE — As of Monday night while doing his part of his radio show by phone from home, Arkansas Basketball Coach Eric Musselman believed would be not yet cleared to travel with his Razorbacks Tuesday to Auburn, Ala. for their first road game Wednesday coinciding with their first SEC game.
Because of COVID-19 contact tracing, Musselman has been quarantined since the morning hours just before Arkansas in its last game beat Abilene Christian, 85-72 on Dec. 22 at Walton Area.
The Razorbacks, 8-0, and Coach Bruce Pearl’s Auburn Tigers, 6-2, open their SEC season at 6 p.m. Wednesday on ESPN2 clashing at Auburn Arena.
“I tested at 7:30 this morning and just waiting on the test results,” Musselman said on Monday’s SEC Zoom basketball coaches/media conference. “I think I’ve taken five tests since last week and they’ve all come back the way that we had hoped and wanted. So you know I’ve just got to wait on this last test results and hopefully I’ll be able to get together with the team tonight and go through the continued preparation with the current staff that’s been with the guys the last couple of days and been able to put together for Auburn.”
Monday night Musselman said he still awaited results of the test that was first driven to Little Rock.
Titled associate head coach, assistant coach David Patrick head coached the victory over Abilene Christian and supervised the practices since the Razorbacks returned from a 3-day Christmas break.
Patrick has done the in-person supervising but certainly with Musselman’s pre-practice input.
“It’s gone good,” Musselman said. “I send all the practice plans to the guys to type up. And Coach Patrick and I talk every night and Coach Corey Williams and I talked a lot last night. So it’s just constant communication with the players and with the staff. I’ve been texting or calling all of our players every day. So there has been a lot of communication going. I would hope everyone knows what’s exactly to be expected in our game preps. I think the players have done a really great job of staying focused.”
Arkansas has won all eight games without ever leaving Fayetteville. So is that a concern, playing your first conference game as your season’s first road game?
“Obviously, we haven’t gone on the road,” Musselman said. “We all know that. So it’s going to be a challenge. Auburn’s won a lot of games in a row in that building. We know they’re a really, really well coached team. They play with great enthusiasm. So, it’s a big challenge. We understand that. I’m hopeful our guys understand that.”
Only two, returning junior starting guard Desi Sills and junior forward Ethan Henderson, a late-season starter last season but this season so far a seldom-used reserve, understand from a been through the SEC experience. All others on this Arkansas team are newcomers, either freshmen, graduate transfers or activated transfers having redshirted as undergraduate transfers last season.
“There’s not been a lot of guys in our locker room that have played SEC road games and I get that,” Musselman said. “So, it’s going to be a first time experience for this group and this coaching staff to go on the road. So a lot of newness that starts Tuesday when we get on the plane. But everyone is going to get challenged whether it’s a home game or road game in conference play.”
And he said while not in SEC games, graduate transfer starting forward Justin Smith via Indiana University, graduate transfer point guard Jalen Tate at Northern Kentucky, and graduate transfer forward Vance Jackson, formerly at the University of Connecticut and University of New Mexico, have played in big conference games.
“Jalen Tate who played at Northern Kentucky played on a NCAA tournament team that won a lot of games,”Musselman said. “Justin Smith playing at Indiana, we know what’s like to play at Indiana or anywhere in the Big Ten. And Vance Jackson at UConn and New Mexico and then obviously Desi who has played in a lot of big games.”
The Razorbacks’ first SEC home game is 11 a.m. Saturday against Missouri at Walton Arena on CBS.