FAYETTEVILLE – The 6-foot-7 seventh grader in the marching band was a sight. As he towered over his fellow students on football fields and in practice fields, coaches in El Dorado just wondered.
Six years later, they wonder no more. Daniel Gafford isn’t in band anymore. He’s in basketball, a top 50 high school recruit in the nation who signed with his home-state Arkansas Razorbacks on Wednesday afternoon.
Gafford is the centerpiece of a three-player class coach Mike Anderson has brought in in the class of 2017. He’s a center, a legit 7-footer, he says, whose current strength is his defense. Given his only-recent conversion to basketball, Gafford’s game is still raw, especially offensively.
But, oh, that potential.
“I’ve learned so much from the camps I’ve been at, had some good people who’ve taught me some things about the game of basketball,” Gafford said. “Hopefully I get to that level of basketball that gets me to that level where I can be one of the best players.”
His game is reminiscent of Moses Kingsley’s when Kingsley came out of high school. He’s raw, supremely athletic and needs some development. Kingsley didn’t do much his first two seasons in Fayetteville, so little in fact some people were throwing the b-for-bust word out there. Two years after that, which is now, he’s the preseason SEC Player of the Year.
Gafford could be that. He’s been stone-dead-set on the Razorbacks for almost two calendar years. Other schools came and checked – Duke and Kentucky included – and he needed advice. The whole thing was new to him. Not the recruiting, the whole morass of basketball and everything that comes with it.
His high-school coach, Gary Simmons, helped him through it best he could.
“‘What do I do?'” Simmons remembers Gafford asking him. “I said, ‘son, what do you want to do? It’s all you, man. I can’t tell you.’ I said ‘I bleed Razorback red, but I can’t tell you where to go.’
“‘I said who’s offered?”
“He said ‘Arkansas.'”
“‘You might have your answer right now.'”
Wednesday confirmed it. He’s headed to Fayetteville in just a few more months. And he’s already been through the training and prep work it takes to turn a band member into a basketball player. Gafford isn’t afraid of doing more of it.
“When I get there I see myself getting in the weight room and working, getting bigger, so I’ll be ready for all the games we’ll have to play,” Gafford said. “Make the coach proud, work up to the coach’s standards.”