SEC FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK: Star forward Daniel Gafford and the Arkansas Razorbacks men's basketball team take on the Troy University Trojans at Verizon Arena Saturday night. University of Arkansas at Fayetteville
University of Arkansas at Fayetteville
GAFFORD

Once Arkansas’s 2019 baseball team exited Omaha with a depressing but somewhat appreciated quickness (let’s face it — getting back to the finals again, only to possibly endure heartbreak, would have been torture), the “dead zone” of Razorback athletics availed itself to all of us. It’s summer, and the only thing to do now is wait, and digest all the recruiting and preseason football and basketball news that comes to the fore.

We’ll get our customary preseason football projections out of the way in the coming weeks—we’ll start with what’s become a bit of a ritual, the “five questions about” segment that will highlight some facets of the team that will dictate how successful its 2019 season will be, and then go into a month-by-month breakdown of the team’s schedule thereafter. For now, though, this is a hodgepodge of Hog-related stuff that may have slipped by your radar during these oppressively hot days.

Gafford Makes Good: In what has easily been the wildest offseason in NBA history, with so many free agents moving around and the league’s balance of power tilting in all sorts of directions, former Razorback Daniel Gafford didn’t allow his slide down the June draft board dissuade him. With a strong showing in the Summer League, the El Dorado product was signed to a two-year, guaranteed deal by the Chicago Bulls.

Now, there are a couple of caveats to this. One, after all the seismic action across the league’s landscape, the Bulls still remain a longshot to even sniff at the playoffs, so Gafford is likely to labor on a pretty bad team for a couple of seasons. Two, Gafford is still going to be a reserve, barring injury to any of the team’s frontline interior players, so his chances of netting much attention in his first year are a little on the light side.

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The good news far outweighs the prospective negatives, however. Gafford showed off an improving floor game in his Summer League games and was a terror on defense as well. The rangy, dunk-happy project has always wowed scouts with his incredible athleticism for his size, and if he can start flashing a bit more offensive versatility, he will last a good while in a league already rich with lean, fast big men.

Baseball Draftees Starting Hot: Another development that has taken some of the sting away from the baseball Hogs’ early departure from the College World Series is the fast starts that some of the 2019 cogs have authored to their respective pro careers.

Dominic Fletcher went 75th overall to the Diamondbacks and has popped two homers and driven in seven runs, while batting a healthy .305, through his first 16 games for Class-A Kane County. Trevor Ezell, the graduate transfer who was such a vital sparkplug to the Hogs’ offense in the leadoff spot, is playing middle infield for the Tampa Rays’ Gulf Coast League team, and he’s hitting .308 after five games. While right-handed ace Isaiah Campbell has not yet pitched for the Mariners’ farm team, lefty closer Matt Cronin has struck out six batters in only three innings of relief work for the Nationals’ Class A team in Hagerstown.

The 2019 squad will be remembered quite fondly for their composure and balance during the season. Things fizzled out at TD AmeriTrade Park a few weeks ago, but this team still made its mark by being the first Razorback team to reach the CWS in back-to-back seasons. The likes of Fletcher, Ezell, Campbell and Cronin were obviously a critical component of that, and it’s always nice to see a Hog flourish in the professional ranks.

Pros Get Paid: While Gafford’s contractual situation might constitute a pleasant surprise for those who realize there’s peril if you fall out of the first round, two former Hogs were recently rewarded for their productivity in the NBA thus far.

Bobby Portis, who was shipped to Washington from the floundering Chicago Bulls team that drafted him, took a bold step into another big-market situation when he signed a lucrative two-year deal with the New York Knicks. On the opposite coast, Patrick Beverley, who overachieved and hustled his way back into the stateside pro league after a few years overseas, ended up staying with the L.A. Clippers on a three-year, $40 million deal.

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Both former Hogs have proven to be reliable, relatively durable, and diverse in their contributions to teams. Portis stands nearly a full foot taller than Beverley, but oddly enough they do a lot of things similarly as far as providing a rebounder and fearless shooter and scorer in the same package. Beverley has especially carved out a niche as a defensive pest; Portis really took giant leaps forward as an all-around player last season