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FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas begins conference play at noon today against No. 19 Tennessee. Bud Walton Arena is sold out.

One of the reasons is a 6-11 freshman who is turning heads all across the country. Daniel Gafford has given this Arkansas basketball team exactly what it lacked after the graduation of Moses Kingsley. Gafford is a defensive whiz and an amazing offensive talent who is still figuring everything out.

I continue to be stunned at the unbelievable athletic ability I see from Gafford. There are plays in every game that put it on display. He improves almost every time out. Coaches and teammates told about Gafford's ability to run the floor, but I'm still amazed.

One of the things that improved Wednesday night in a 95-68 victory over California State-Bakersfield was his defensive rebounding. Gafford grabbed 12 rebounds, a career high. That's exactly what the Hogs will need in SEC play when the bigs get bigger and more active around the rim. He can play above the rim on the defensive end, not just blocking shots.

Gafford has 23 blocked shots to lead the Hogs. He's also averaging 11.7 points, fourth on the team.

Yes, you notice when he blocks (or rebounds) on one end, the outlet is made and he beats the opposition down the floor. But there are other times that I just have to marvel at what he can do.

Midway through the second half there was a play where he went to the deck in an off balance attempt to get to the defensive boards. He didn't make it. He went sprawling near the baseline. But he was like a cat that fell from a branch of a tree, only down for a second.

The ball headed the other way and he was on all fours, then up and sprinting in a blink of the eye. I watched for the replay of that play during the timeout just to see it again. What he did was not really part of the play on either end. But his quickness and ability to be back up and full speed in an instant tells you two things: he's in shape and he's a wonderful athlete.

There are times that he's still figuring things out on defense. But you see his teammates coaching him and a nod of the head or a roll of the eyes when he realized what he'd just done. He's going to be a great one.

Gafford has improved so much since the start of the season. He's super competitive. He's got a nice release to his shot (when he doesn't see a way to dunk) and just is an all-around star in the making. Clearly, his teammates understand what he's becoming. They encourage him. What he can be by tournament time might be an absolute beast.

This is a player who could be one of the great all-time basketball players at Arkansas. His potential may be beyond what we've seen from about anyone. His desire, his intellect and just great makeup give me the belief that he's going to be in the area of Sidney Moncrief, Corliss Williamson, Ron Brewer, Marvin Delph, Corey Beck, Lee Mayberry and Bobby Portis.

Yes, he's just played 12 games. But what I've seen in those 12 games is amazing. He just keeps getting better. Watch out.

Sports on 12/30/2017

Print Headline: Gafford stuns with all-around ability

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