FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas freshman center Daniel Gafford will return to the Razorbacks for his sophomore season, he said Monday.
“The NBA might be in my future, but Fayetteville, Arkansas, is where it’s at," Gafford said in a video statement. "I’ll be back for another year playing in Bud Walton for you guys. Woo Pig!"
Gafford's announcement ends months of speculation whether he would become Arkansas' first one-and-done player. Several mock draft sites had listed Gafford as a first-round prospect this year, typically between the 16th and 23rd best player available. Those projections did not take into consideration which teams will pick from those positions in the draft, meaning Gafford's stock could have fluctuated based on fit or need.
At 6-11 and 234 pounds, Gafford projects well to the next level. He has large hands, runs the floor well for his size and is a strong defender, although he struggled with foul trouble for much of his freshman season. He fouled out three times and had four fouls in 15 other games.
It was expected Gafford might declare for the NBA Draft without hiring an agent, which would have given him feedback about his position in the draft, but left the door open for him to return for his sophomore year. Players with remaining eligibility have until April 22 to declare for the draft and until June 11 to withdraw from the draft and return to college.
Several highly rated college post players are expected to enter this year's NBA Draft, which might have played a factor in Gafford's decision to return.
Among the underclassman big men who have declared or are widely expected to declare for the draft are: Mo Bamba of Texas, DeAndre Ayton of Arizona, Jaren Jackson of Michigan State, Robert Williams of Texas A&M, Michael Porter Jr. and Jontay Porter of Missouri, and Wendell Carter and Marvin Bagley III of Duke.
Gafford averaged 11.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game as a freshman, and broke the school's freshman record for blocked shots with 76. He was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team.
“Obviously this is great news for us,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said in a statement. “He’s the centerpiece to what we are doing here, and this gives him the chance to build on the tremendous freshman year he had. Daniel is a special player and the sky is the limit for him.”
As Gafford went, so went the Razorbacks for much of their 23-12 campaign in 2017-18.
In wins, Gafford averaged 13.1 points and 6.8 rebounds, but in losses those averages fell to 9.3 and 5, respectively.
Gafford had a combined 15 points and 10 rebounds in the Razorbacks' final two games, lopsided postseason losses to Tennessee and Butler. He had double-digit scoring efforts in nine of 11 games prior to the season-ending losses, a stretch during which Arkansas went 8-3.
Gafford gives Arkansas a proven commodity next season when the Razorbacks will lose at least six scholarship players to exhausted eligibility. Arkansas must replace three of its top four scorers and rebounders in 2018-19.