Vanover (7-foot-3, 225 pounds, stretch-5) joins North Carolina-Wilmington grad-transfer Jeantal Cylla (6-7 forward) as the first two players to form Musselman’s veteran spring class so far in 2019. Unless he is granted a waiver for immediate playing eligibility, Vanover will have a transfer-redshirt season in ’19-20 with three seasons to play beginning in ’20-21.
Vanover is a Little Rock native who played most of his high school career at hometown Baptist Prep — where he helped the Eagles to back-to-back 4A state titles in 2015-16 and ’16-17 — before trekking out to the desert to play as a high school senior at Findlay Prep in Las Vegas followed by playing his college freshman season last year at Cal of the Pac-12 Conference.
Vanover recently entered the “transfer portal” following Cal’s firing of head coach Wyking Jones — he was 16-47 in two years in Berkeley — and hiring of former Georgia coach Mark Fox. After Musselman and Arkansas staff coach Anthony Ruta visited him in California on May 1, Vanover visited Vanderbilt on May 7-8 before visiting Arkansas on May 9-10. He also considered Maryland and other schools — including the possibility of remaining at Cal — before calling the Hogs.
“I think it’s an incredible opportunity for Connor to play for Coach Musselman,” said Jeff Hogue, former Baptist Prep head coach who worked with Vanover while he was in middle school. “He’s a very smart coach and will figure out how to use him. I just think it will be a good fit. And it will be a real treat for his family and everyone who’s watched him play around here. Deep down in his heart, he’s probably always wanted to be a Razorback.”
Vanover becomes the first 7-footer at Arkansas in more than a decade (Steven Hill, 2004-08). Whether he plays next season or sits the traditional transfer-redshirt year, Vanover will come to practice standing seven inches taller than the three tallest remaining scholarship players at Arkansas — freshman Reggie Chaney, sophomore Gabe Osabuohien, and freshman Ethan Henderson — who are all listed at 6-8 on the roster.
Aside from being a native Arkansan, Vanover has additional ties to the Razorbacks program. His Mom, Robyn Irwin Vanover, played for the Arkansas women’s team in the 1980s, and Chaney was a teammate of Vanover’s during the ’17-18 season at Findlay Prep. Vanover was also teammates with recently departed All SEC center Daniel Gafford with the Arkansas Wings spring/summer grassroots basketball program roughly four years ago.
Vanover picked up a scholarship offer from the previous coaching staff at Arkansas just prior to his sophomore season at Baptist Prep, but he was never heavily pursued by Arkansas until Musselman took over the Razorbacks program last month.
Vanover averaged 7.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks in 17.5 minutes per game while shooting 46.9% field goals, including 35.5% from 3, and 66.7% free throws as a freshman at Cal. He started 15 of the 28 games he played in last season at Cal, and he had a strong three-game stretch to close out the regular season by averaging 17.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks in 28.0 minutes per game as the Bears enjoyed a three-game winning streak that halted a 16-game losing skid.
On the season, Vanover’s per-40-minute production was strong — 17.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.4 blocks — at Cal, which finished 8-23 overall and 3-15 for last place in the Pac-12. Vanover originally signed with Memphis out of high school, but after Tigers head coach Tubby Smith was fired following the ’17-18 season, Vanover was granted a release from his letter of intent and enrolled at Cal.
“Obviously, Connor is a very unique player being 7-3 with the ability to shoot the 3 the way he can,” said current Little Rock Central head coach Brian Ross, who was at the helm at Baptist Prep when Vanover helped the school to two state titles as a high school sophomore and junior. “He’s unbelievably skilled on the offensive end. He has great hands and can really pass the ball in addition to his scoring ability. To me it’s always been about finding the right fit for Connor and if he is in the right system he’s going to thrive.”
Hogue, whose brother Michael Hogue played for the Razorbacks basketball team under Naismith Hall of Fame coach Nolan Richardson, recalls Vanover’s rapid growth — both as a player and physically.
“When I first started working with Connor, you could tell he was special,” Hogue said. “He was 6-4 in 6th grade, and he had great (shooting) touch. He started 7th grade around 6-6, then in the spring and summer he grew close to 7-0. So in about six months he really grew. But he did not lose any coordination, in fact he actually gained coordination. I knew then he could be special because he had talent and was a hard worker.
“Now he’s a lot stronger. In today’s game with all the screen-and-pops, if you’ve got a guy who can shoot like he can, and protect the rim like he can, you’ve got someone who can play at the highest level in college.”
Linked just below is a brief highlight reel of Vanover’s freshman season at Cal …