FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Arkansas head basketball coach John Pelphrey took a huge step toward replacing the six seniors on this year’s team with the signing of six players to national letters of intent during the early signing period, which ended on Wednesday.
The newest Razorbacks are high school guard Rotnei Clarke and forward Brandon Moore; prep school guards Courtney Fortson and Terrance Joyner, and forward Andre Clark; and junior college forward Daniel Payne.
Joyner and Andre Clark are both at Genesis One Christian School in Mendenhall, Miss., the same school which produced current Arkansas forward Michael Washington. Joyner played at Taft High School outside Los Angeles, Calif., while Clark played at North Little Rock High before going to Genesis One.
Rotnei Clarke, 6-1, 180, is at Verdigris High School in Claremore, Okla.; Fortson at The Patterson School, a prep school in Lenoir, N.C., after prepping at Jefferson Davis High in Montgomery, Ala.; Moore at Holy Cross High in New Orleans, La., after playing in Arkansas as a sophomore; and Payne is a pre-season All-American at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College.
“We’re excited about this class,” Pelphrey says. “Our assistants did a very good job of getting us involved with good players who are high-character guys. This is an important class because of what we are losing. All of them have the chance to make an immediate impact their first season. We talked about that during the recruiting process.
“We’re not losing guys at just one position. We need point guard play and wing play, we need to improve our shooting and we only have one small forward in the program. We needed to address all of those areas, plus we’re losing four quality frontcourt players. We still need to add someone to the frontcourt. We’ll work on that in the next recruiting period.”
Clarke, ranked the No. 14 point guard in the nation by both Rivals and Scout and the No. 81 overall prospect, could become Oklahoma’s prep career scoring leader after averaging 37.6 points a game last year.
Joyner, 6-2, 175 pounds, averaged 13.0 points, 9.0 assists and 3.0 steals last year. He played AAU ball for M33M, a team sponsored by NBA all-star Mike Miller, who Pelphrey recruited to Florida.
Andre Clark, 6-10, 205 pounds, originally committed to Oklahoma before signing with Arkansas.
Fortson, 5-11, 175 pounds, was named Mr. Basketball by the Alabama Sports Writers Association after averaging 23.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.2 steals as a senior. A four-star prospect, he is the No. 9 point guard in the nation according to Rivals and the No. 59 overall recruit.
Moore, 6-9, 215 pounds, averaged 16.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 5.0 blocked shots as a junior at Holy Cross after playing at Episcopal Collegiate School in Little Rock as a sophomore while displaced by Hurricane Katrina. He is rated the No. 34 power forward in the country by Rivals and the No. 126 overall prospect.
Payne, 6-7, 210 pounds, is a pre-season first-team junior college All-American according to The Sporting News.
Clarke, who is also a four-star recruit, had more than 30 offers and signed with Arkansas after also considering Oklahoma State, Oral Roberts, Gonzaga, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Tulsa, Kansas, Arizona State, Memphis and New Mexico, among others.
His 37.6 scoring average last year includes averaging 46.0 points in the state tournament, which includes a career-high 60-point outing. He enters his senior season with 2,534 career points, which is 1,086 away from the state record of 3,620 set by Ty Harman of Maud in 1989.
“Rotnei is a young man who our entire staff felt strongly about as a player, student and person,” Pelphrey says. “He’s received tremendous respect from across the country for his talents and how hard he plays. Because he lives so close to us, there is already a familiarity with our fans. He is one of the premiere shooters in high school basketball. I would say he’s one of the top three or four I’ve ever had the chance to be around, but he’s much more than that. He is also a playmaker and he really excels in transition. He’s a great addition to our team.”
“The atmosphere is unbelievable,” Clarke said of Arkansas games. “ I really love the coaching staff. One thing that really impressed me is the AAO (Arkansas Athletes Outreach) for Arkansas’ Christian athletes and obviously that’s one thing that is really important for me and my walk with God. It’s a great program and a great place to be, and I feel like I can come in and make an immediate impact.”
Clarke scored 32 in the last game of his junior season, a 58-53 loss in the Class 3A state semifinals. A 4.0 student, he was invited to and participated in Kobe Bryant’s camp in California, the LeBron James Camp in Ohio and the NBA Players Association Camp in Virginia.
Moore is rated the No. 34 power forward and No. 129 overall prospect by Rivals. He played AAU for the Texas Blue Chips and was named MVP of the Double Pump Basketball Event in California. He helped Holy Cross High reach the quarterfinals of the Louisiana Class 5A playoffs by averaging 25.0 points, 15.0 rebounds and 7.0 blocked shots in three games.
“Brandon is a long, athletic frontcourt player who has a very big upside,” Pelphrey says. “He can score around the basket and finish on the break. He is going to get better with his ball-handling and his perimeter skills as he gets older. Maybe more so than anybody else in this class, he has great versatility on the defensive end of the floor. He can guard on the perimeter and around the basket. Because he was a Katrina victim and spent some time in Little Rock, he has a strong affection for the Razorbacks.”
Moore signed with Arkansas after also considering Marquette, Auburn, Tulane, Wichita State, Ole Miss, TCU, Temple and Texas Tech.
Andre Clark prepped at North Little Rock High, earning Class 7A all-state honors after averaging 16.0 points and 10.0 rebounds as a senior. He was also the MVP of the Metro Game, a central Arkansas all-star game, after totaling 27 points and 15 rebounds.
As a junior, he was Class 5A all-state after averaging 20.0 points and 10.0 rebounds.
“Andre is an Arkansas kid who loves the Razorbacks,” Pelphrey says. “He’s a versatile and talented frontcourt player. He has small forward skills in that he’s able to step out and shoot as well as play inside. It is important in our style of play to have someone who can score around the basket and step outside, and Andre gives us that versatility. His upside is tremendous. It’s important that we keep the best players in Arkansas home and he is certainly one of the best players in Arkansas.”
Clark averaged 25.0 points and 8.0 rebounds over the summer playing AAU for the Arkansas Hawks. He has played AAU with current Razorbacks Michael Sanchez and Nate Rakestraw, and has a sister attending Arkansas.
“What truly set (Arkansas) apart were the fans and this new coaching staff,” Clark said. “Everybody is looking forward to see what Arkansas is going to do. I’ve always been a Razorback fan. I’ve always believed they have the greatest fans. Coach Pelphrey, Coach (Tom) Ostrom and Coach (Isaac) Brown all called and told me they really wanted me. It’s been a blessing. I think they want to use me as a mismatch player on the low block where I can step outside and play.”
Clark signed with the Razorbacks after considering Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Syracuse, Florida, Indiana, Baylor and Colorado.
At Jefferson Davis High, Fortson averaged 19.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists as a sophomore, and 25.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 4.0 steals as a junior. He led Jefferson Davis to the state Class 6A state title his junior season and was named Most Valuable Player of the state tournament.
“Me and my coaches waited (to commit), found the best situation and made the decision,” Fortson said. “I like to score, but if I see a teammate on fire, I’m going to get him the ball by any means possible. I watch a lot of Steve Nash. He doesn’t like for his players to get the ball in the wrong spot because that will affect the shot so I like to put it in the shooting pocket.”
Fortson signed with Arkansas after also considering Florida State, Kentucky, Cincinnati, Missouri, Tennessee and Minnesota.
“I had the opportunity to watch Courtney play over the last several years while we were at South Alabama,” Pelphrey says. “He is a winner. He won one high school state championship and played for another. He has a toughness about him that I think is needed at his position. He not only excels on the offensive end as a great penetrator, finisher and distributor, but he also excels on defense. He is a playmaker on that end of the floor as well. Courtney’s heart and effort, with regards to winning, have never been questioned.”
Joyner is rated the No. 22 point guard in the nation by Rivals with an overall rating of 5.7 of a possible 6.1. Scout lists him as a three-star recruit and as the No. 39 point guard in the country.
He signed with Arkansas after also considering New Mexico State, Oregon State, Washington State, Missouri, LSU, Tennessee, Florida State and Southern Cal.
“Terrance is a talented backcourt player,” Pelphrey says. “He’s a good driver and distributor who is improving from the three-point line. He can also be disruptive on the defensive end because of his size and quickness. He has a great personality and will fit in with the team environment at Arkansas very well.”
In addition to earning pre-season first-team All-America honors from The Sporting News, Payne is also a second-team All-American according to the National Junior College Athletic Association. He averaged 15.3 points a game as a freshman for head coach Jay Herkelman. In eight post-season games, he made six threes in one and five in three others, helping the Red Ravens finish third in the nation.
Payne chose Arkansas after also considering Illinois, Saint Louis, Wichita State, Purdue and St. John’s.
“Daniel is a very highly-rated junior college player, arguably a top five player in the country depending on who you talk to,” Pelphrey says. “He has a chance to play significant minutes from day one with the loss of Sonny (Weems). Daniel has unique abilities. He is a talented offensive player as well as a very good defensive player. He is also a high-energy guy who is very serious about working hard and winning, which helps him be a leader. We’re very excited about Daniel becoming a Razorback.”
The Razorbacks lose six seniors off this year’s squad, including guard Gary Ervin, centers Steven Hill and Darian Townes, and forwards Vincent Hunter, Charles Thomas and Weems.
Arkansas Razorbacks Recruiting Class
Andre Clark F, 6-10, 205 North Little Rock, Ark. NLR HS 16.0 ppg, 10.0 reb
two-time all-state, MVP of Metro Game (central Arkansas all-star game)
Rotnei Clarke G, 6-1, 180 Claremore, Okla.; Verdigris HS 37.6 ppg
Rivals No. 14 PG, Rivals No. 81 overall
Courtney Fortson PG, 5-11, 175 Montgomery, Ala.; Jefferson Davis HS; currently at The Patterson
School (prep school in Lenoir, N.C.) 23.7 ppg, 7.1 reb, 4.2 steals
Named Alabama’s Mr. Basketball by state sports writers association; Rivals No. 9 PG, Rivals No. 59 overall
Terrance Joyner G, 6-2, 175 Woodland Hills, Calif.; Taft HS; currently at Genesis One Christian
School (prep school in Mendenhall, Miss.) 13.0 ppg, 9.0 assists
Rivals No. 22 PG, Scout No. 39 PG
Brandon Moore F, 6-9, 215 New Orleans, La.; Holy Cross HS 16.0 ppg, 10.0 reb, 5.0 blocks
Rivals No. 34 PF, Rivals No. 129 overall
Daniel Payne SF, 6-7, 210 South Bend, Ind.; Coffeyville (Kan.) CC 15.3 ppg
Pre-season first-team All-American by The Sporting News; second-team by NJCAA