Mike Neighbors won’t have to send Kim Mulkey a ‘thank you’ note – he will be able to express his gratitude in person.
Last month, Mulkey, who won three national championships in 21 seasons at Baylor, left the school unexpectedly to take the LSU head women’s basketball job in her home state.
The surprising coaching change caused former Bentonville High School star center Mayam Dauda to rethink her college choice. Dauda, ranked No. 13 in the nation among senior recruits, signed with Baylor in November. After visiting with new Baylor Coach Nikki Collen, Dauda asked for a release from her letter of intent and decided to head down the road to Fayetteville and Arkansas.
The news that broke last week continued a run of good fortune for Neighbors. Earlier in the spring another former area blue chipper, Sasha Goforth, announced she was transferring to her native Fayetteville and the Hogs after spending a year at Oregon State.
Now, Neighbors has an influx of talent coming to The Hill after losing stars Chelsea Dungee and Destinee Slocum in the first round of the WNBA Draft.
Fort Smith Northside 6-5 guard Jersey Wolfenbarger, signed with Arkansas and joined Dauda as a McDonald’s All-American this season. Goforth, the Fayetteville High School alum, was also a McDonald’s All-American.
All three are phenomenal talents, and will help Arkansas, but the biggest development may be landing Dauda. She is a post presence the Razorbacks haven’t had. In a senior season that was cut short by a knee injury, she averaged 17 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game while shooting 61.5 percent from the field and 41.5 percent from the three-point line. As a junior Dauda averaged of 16.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per contest in 28 games.
“Maryam becoming a Razorback in the Class of 2021 gives us another outstanding young student-athlete to represent the University of Arkansas,” Neighbors said in a release last Friday. “Everyone in this state has seen her lead her Bentonville High School team under Tom Halbmaier to great success. Offensively, she can score on the block and stretch the floor to the three-point line. She’s an 80 percent free throw shooter and is a capable, willing passer. She runs the court like she’s a guard and can finish in transition, making her the perfect fit for our roster. Defensively, she changes the game in the lane. She has incredible ability to affect shots with her timing, and she also has a knack for blocking shots without fouling. I have no idea how tall they will list her in the program but she plays taller than whatever that number will be.”
Dauda, who was born in Nigeria and didn’t play basketball until 6th grade, was a four-time 7A-West All-Conference selection and three-time 7A All-Stater. She leaves BHS as the all-time leading scorer, rebounder and shot blocker.
Along with the McDonald’s All-American honor, she was semifinalist for the Jersey Mike’s National High School Player of the Year Award.
“She’s a warm, caring teammate that turns into a fierce competitor the second she steps on the court,” Neighbors continued. “I can say with some experience we have never had a player like her in a Razorback uniform. And for us, the most exciting part is also what we’ve been saying since we first saw her play – her best basketball is still ahead of her. You don’t often say that about a McDonald’s All American.”
One of the problems the Hogs have had since Gary Blair parted ways with UA and landed at Texas A&M, where he has thrived, is being able to land big-time in-state recruits. Even though, Neighbors didn’t initially land Dauda, her change of heart along with Wolfenbarger being firmly committed throughout, will make an impact as Neighbors hits the recruiting trail this year.
Former Nettleton High School star Elauna Eaton is also in this class after redshirting last season after enduring an injury. In all, Neighbors now features seven Arkansans on his roster.
If Neighbors can continue to win at the pace he has, players from around the country will be attracted to his program. Entering his fifth season directing the Hogs, Neighbors is 78-50 and beat Top 5 Baylor and UConn last season. The Baylor win over Mulkey was the first Top 5 win for the Hogs since 2003. Last season also marked the first time the program has earned back-to-back NCAA Tournament berths since the 2002-03 tournaments.
All of that is just the beginning and now with Dauda solidifying a stellar 2021 class, Mulkey will have a front-row seat for the Hogs continued ascension up the SEC ladder thanks, in part, to her homecoming.
Image courtesy of Arkansas Athletics