By Kevin McPherson
LITTLE ROCK — The first day of Arkansas Razorbacks men’s basketball training camp was on Monday with a noticeable absence — junior Isaiah Joe, who since June has been back in Fayetteville doing voluntary strength-and-conditioning work as well as individual shooting drills with teammates but was not in the basketball performance center on opening day when coaches and players took the court together for formal basketball drill instruction as the initial step of the 2020-21 season.
It was the first time since the abrupt end to the SEC tournament in mid-March that Arkansas’ staff and players have collaborated on the floor in official basketball activities, and while Joe — a source on Monday confirmed his absence — is still a part of the program he simultaneously remains in the 2020 NBA Draft pool. The NCAA mandated an August 3 deadline for underclassmen who have not signed with agents to withdraw from the draft (which has been moved from late June to Oct. 16) if they want to maintain their college playing eligibility, meaning Joe has less than two weeks to make his decision as he continues to go through the pre-draft process that includes interviews with NBA teams as well as NBA-specific training and preparation.
Given the halt of activity in organized sports spanning the past four-plus months due to the coronavirus pandemic, Arkansas’ first day back in the gym was magnified for Hog fans who collectively are excited and hopeful for their team’s return to college sports. Thus, the optics of Joe missing out on day one had some fans on message boards speculating about his future.
The Hogs’ star 6-5 shooting guard from Fort Smith will likely be mentioned among preseason candidates for SEC Player of the Year if he returns, bolstering Arkansas’ impressive 13-man roster that has made the Razorbacks a popular choice in many way-too-early national Top 25 rankings. Conversely, should Joe stay in the draft he’s considered an early-to-mid second round pick with some late first-round interest.
The oddity of the situation — which is the fact that Joe still has one foot on each side of the stay-or-go fence as we approach August — is entirely the result of the pandemic that has dramatically disrupted the normal calendar and timing of the process. In any other year, the pre-draft process (including the NBA Combine), the draft-withdrawal deadline for underclassmen, and the actual draft itself would have all played out by late June, so Joe’s decision would have been known long before now. And certainly before a return to Arkansas for summer courses and basketball-related activities.
As the process winds down with a decision coming by Aug. 3, Joe is still weighing his options as Arkansas and its coaching staff remain supportive.