By Kevin McPherson
LITTLE ROCK — Often thought of as a well-kept secret in basketball recruiting circles, the state of Arkansas may have finally arrived on the national stage offering a multitude of top-shelf high-major prospects and potential future NBA players based on how the 2021 spring and summer grassroots season played out.
Certainly there was no shortage of Hog commits and Hog recruiting targets among those who stood out as there are four in-state prospects ranked in the national Top 20 and a couple more ranked in the Top 50.
In recognition of those who excelled on the court against competition from all over the country while raising their recruiting profiles, here is our Hogville.net 2021 All Arkansas Grassroots Player of the Year and first, second, and third teams …
Player of the Year
* 2022 Nick Smith, Jr. (6-5 combo guard, North Little Rock, 17U Brad Beal Elite, national No. 18 / 5-star prospect according to 247Sports.com) was spectacular in July — which is the biggest exposure month for high school prospects — as he strung together multiple brilliant performances in the Nike EYBL sessions and prestigious Peach Jam event, capped off by a 31-point effort in the Peach Jam championship game. A priority Arkansas recruit with an official visit set with the Hogs on Sept. 10-12, Smith picked up a Kentucky offer at the end of Peach Jam to go along with the dozens of other high-major offers he already held. He also recently took part in the SLAM Summer Classic in New York along with other elite prospects. Smith’s combination of alpha-scorer mentality with the skill to back it up, plus court awareness and facilitating ability that make him a dangerous combo guard, and length has elevated him to being arguably the top combo guard in the nation.
“If you put the work in the results are going to show, and it did,” Smith said. “Had a lot of fun playing AAU basketball and it has been nothing but a blessing. But getting a chance to compete, and compete with my teammates, was one one of the best experiences of my life, and hopefully God can bless me with more opportunities like I had.”
First team (alphabetical order)
* 2023 Layden Blocker (6-2 point guard, Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas by way of Little Rock, Brad Beal Elite 16U, national No. 33 / 4-star prospect according to Rivals.com) was productive on the Nike E16 circuit throughout the spring and summer, and coming off his early June unofficial visit to Arkansas he excelled at the prestigious Pangos All American Camp in Las Vegas, earning himself a spot in the event’s Top 30 all star game. Blocker is a capable volume scorer, a fearless slasher, a facilitator, and he’s a plus-rebounder relative to his size.
* 2024 K. Annor Boateng (6-5 wing, Little Rock Central, 15U Arkansas Hawks) … one of the top 15U performers on the Adidas 3SSB circuit throughout the spring and summer, Boateng was one of only a handful of freshman nationwide to take part in the prestigious Pangos All American Camp in Las Vegas in June. Already holding an Arkansas offer, Boateng has added offers from Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Memphis, and Auburn. His combo of size on the wing, strength, and plus-athleticism made him a matchup nightmare for opponents on Adidas’ top circuit.
* 2022 Hog commit Derrian Ford (6-4 combo guard, Magnolia, 17U Next Page Force, composite national No. 45 / 4-star prospect) took his official visit to Arkansas — the only OV he took — on June 1-3, and roughly six weeks later he announced his pledge to the Razorbacks. The ’20-21 Gatorade Arkansas Boys High School Player of the Year began the spring playing with 17U Houston Hoops but switched to Arkansas-based 17U Next Page Force in June, earning MVP honors while leading his team to the Real Deal in the Rock title and playing well in early July at Adidas events. He also showed well at Pangos, making the Top 60 all star game. Ford’s muscled up frame and strength allow him to bully-ball defenders, he’s a hard-working competitor, and he’s been a winner at every stop. The lefty has a chance to make an early impact at the next level as a Hog.
* 2023 Ryan Forrest (6-3 wing, Marion, 16U Woodz Elite) was one of the most productive performers among Nike E16 teams this season, and his play grabbed the attention of college recruiters. An explosive slasher and fearless above-the-rim finisher, Ryan holds offers from D1 Oral Roberts and DII East Central University with Tulsa and UCA among the other schools showing interest.
* 2022 Hog commit Joseph Pinion (6-6 wing, Morrilton, 17U Arkansas Hawks, national No. 114 / 4-star prospect according to Rivals.com) pledged to Arkansas in the fall, so he entered grassroots play in the spring with a target on his back as the top player on the Hawks team. With Adidas 3SSB opponents looking to shut him down, Pinion scored the ball well but also rebounded and facilitated at high levels. He took an unofficial visit to Arkansas in early June. Pinion’s an elite shooter from distance whose all-around game is high-major worthy, and his size and frame as he adds muscle and strength at the next level will give him a chance to be a really good player in the SEC.
* 2025 Kellen Robinson (6-0 point guard, Episcopal Collegiate, 15U Arkansas Hawks) was phenomenal playing up on the Adidas 3SSB 15U level as he teamed with Boateng to lead the Hawks to a championship in the Real Deal in the Rock followed by final four runs in the Adidas 3SSB finale and Las Vegas Big Time events. The younger brother of Razorbacks freshman guard KK Robinson, Kellen Robinson just picked up an offer from Auburn with the Hogs, USC, and Arizona State among the schools showing interest. Kellen Robinson is a talented, shifty slasher with a variety of floaters, pull-ups, and at-the-rim finishes in the paint, and his three-point shooting emerged throughout the summer.
* 2021 DJ Smith (5-10 point guard, North Little Rock, 17U Nike Pro Skills) followed up a starring role on North Little Rock’s 6A state title run in March by betting on himself as an unsigned senior and joining 17U Nike Pro Skills on the 2021 Nike EYBL spring and summer circuit, and it paid off as Smith’s talent, production, and winning impact resulted in multiple D1 offers that culminated with an August commitment / signing with the Little Rock Trojans.
* 2024 Dallas “Slim” Thomas (6-7 wing, Little Rock Parkview, 15U Brad Beal Elite, national No. 17 / 4-star prospect according to ESPN) has as high a ceiling as any prospect in the state, and his offer list that includes Arkansas, Memphis, Illinois, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and others is a testament to the promise he flashed during the spring and summer. Thomas is a smooth and gifted shooter-scorer, and his plus-length and plus-height for a wing his age make him one of the most intriguing prospects in the country. Thomas is working on setting up an unofficial visit to Arkansas.
* 2022 Kel’el Ware (7-0 center, North Little Rock, 17U All Arkansas Red, national No. 14 / 5-star prospect according to 247Sports.com) did not play on one of the major circuits, but he did battle against some high-level bigs (including other 5-stars) and more than held his own. He also was a standout at the prestigious Pangos All American Camp as well as the NBPA Top 100 camp in June and July, respectively. Ware’s length, inside-out skill offensively, and his rebounding and shot-blocking production slot him among the best players in the nation. He recently committed to Oregon.
* 2023 Bryson Warren (6-2 point guard, Link Academy in Missouri by way of Little Rock, 17U Mokan Elite, national No. 15 / 5-star prospect according to ESPN) made the best case for first runner-up to Smith for All Arkansas Grassroots Player of the Year. Playing up on the Nike EYBL circuit, Warren’s elite shooting — volume and efficiency — from all three levels in the halfcourt and his emerging pace and feel as a play-making primary handler were on full display against the best competition in the country. An impressive offer list that includes Arkansas, Kansas, and other high-major programs speaks plainly enough to his talents, and Duke has expressed interest as well. Warren took an unofficial visit to Arkansas on Aug. 1.
Second team (alphabetical order)
* 2022 Carl Daughtery, Jr. (6-3 combo guard, Maumelle, 17U Old School Wings) joined forces with Colby…