If Thursday’s loss to Florida in the second round of the Southeastern Conference tournament was the last game of Arkansas forward Daniel Gafford’s college career, he wasn’t in the mood to say. But that didn’t prevent a television reporter who was part of the media huddled around the 6-foot-11 Gafford in the Razorbacks’ locker room to ask the inevitable question about when he was going to make the jump to the NBA.
Gafford’s answer spoke volumes about his character.
“I just want to focus on the team right now,” Gafford said.
The Gators buried Arkansas’ slim NCAA tournament hopes, and at 17-15, there’s no guarantee of an NIT bid, either. It’s doubtful the Hogs would play in one of the other, alphabet soup (CIT, CBI) events, so with an early start on spring break. Gafford, a projected first-round NBA Draft pick, could also get an early start on his decision-making process.
A year ago, after his freshman season, Gafford surprised some Draft analysts by consulting with the Arkansas coaching staff and his family and deciding to return to school, even though he was generally regarded as first-round material.
“It was a mature decision,” says Arkansas associate head coach Melvin Watkins, “to say ‘I’m not quite ready yet, and I’m enjoying the college experience.’ In today’s world, you get so many outside influences, trying to give you their opinions. Some of them are self-serving. Some are motivating.”
Suffice it to say Gafford listened to those opinions in the latter camp, the people who thought he had some work left to do before he should even consider the NBA. He was motivated to improve, and improve he did.
“I wanted to work on my body,” says Gafford, who weighs about 235, “and be more physical in the post. I wanted to move my game out to the free-throw line where I could attack the basket, and I wanted to work on my jump shot. But I didn’t shoot that many jumpers this year, which was a disappointment to me.”