NCAA Basketball: Arkansas at South Carolina

It seems a near certainty in this year of Wembymania that Victor Wembanyama, the 7-foot-4, French-born wunderkind and inevitable No. 1 pick, is destined to be the most prominent and dominant player in the 2023 NBA Draft

It's also a near certainty that, in spite of the Wembyshadow cast across this pre-draft landscape, other stars will emerge from the class. Scoot Henderson and Brandon Miller make for a compelling debate at No. 2. The twins Thompson, Amen and Ausar, will also be among the handful of earliest picks. 

Adjacent to that group, there's another player who's got a chance to grow into something special. A year ago, he was not a projected 2023 pick. Yet here is Anthony Black, the one-and-done, 6-6 point guard out of Arkansas who's steadily built his case to be a top-10 draftee. He's the highest rated of the four Razorbacks in this year's draft pool, surpassing teammate and fellow former five-star Nick Smith Jr. (who battled injuries much of last season).

"I thought he could be an NBA player the first time I saw him play," Arkansas coach Eric Musselman told CBS Sports. "Now, I don't know if any of us knew coming into the season he would be a one-and-done. I think we were all hopeful."

Black (ranked ninth on CBS Sports' Big Board) is considered a high-probability long-term NBA player for a few reasons. One: he has marvelous vision and passing compulsions for someone who is nearly 6-7 in shoes. Point guards this tall aren't common. Two: he's a desperate-to-please defender, the rare example of a guy who takes virtually no plays off on that end of the floor and is capable of guarding positions 1-4. He also plays bigger than he looks — and he's deceptively big as is. Though Black is a little slight in the chest, his frame is sturdy and he knows how to play through contact. Feedback from NBA general managers has been consistent in their praise about how big his body base is for a 19-year-old. 

"He's definitely a top-10 player," Musselman said. "There are teams outside the top 10, they're not even thinking he's got a chance to get to them."

Black has five scheduled meetings with franchises picking in the top 10, the highest of them being the Houston Rockets at No. 4.

Even if he is a lock to go top 10, is Anthony Black a sleeper star talent who still might be taken too late? When you learn how he got to this moment, there is a convincing case he has one of the highest ceilings of any player in this draft.

Black (born Jan. 20, 2004 in Irving, Texas) is the child of two former Division I athletes. His mother, Jen, played soccer at Texas and Baylor. His father, Terry, was a basketball standout at Baylor. Terry Black played overseas for many years; when Anthony was 10 months old, the family moved to Germany. By the age of 3, he was fluent in German, even speaking it while talking in his sleep. When it came time for Anthony to start kindergarten, Jen moved back with the children to the United States. 

Most players talented enough to be NBA picks gravitate to basketball as, if not their first great sport, then usually their second. 

Basketball was the fourth sport Black turned out to be really good at. 

A preternaturally gifted athlete, Black has excelled athletically since he was in his early grade school years. First it was baseball, then soccer, then football. He played on youth teams that went on to be ranked at or near the top, nationally. His baseball and soccer teams would eventually produce a cluster of Division I players. 

"I was high-level in the other three, and I played rec basketball," Black said. 

He grew up just outside of Dallas, in Coppell, Texas. Jen and Terry Black split in his younger years, so Anthony was raised by his mom for the second half of his childhood. 

"She's always done everything for me and my brother," Black said. "Especially with sports. Travel sports and all that is super expensive. And it was tough for a while, and she did a good job keeping all that stuff away from us and keeping us focused on the bright spots and all the good things." 

Baseball came easy. Soccer, too. 

Black excelled early at soccer and baseball, then was a four-star wide receiver in Texas. Jen Black

"He was just really, really special," Jen said. "And he just kept growing and growing." 

Black was building out his physique and talent by playing as many sports as often as possible. It came from his mom. Jen played three high school sports (volleyball, soccer, softball) and was an athlete in basketball, cheerleading and track before that. She is a proponent of children playing multiple sports for optimal mental and physical development, and believes it's a significant factor in her son becoming an NBA player. Anthony gave up soccer in middle school as soon as he was asked to sign a contract that prohibited him playing other organized team sports. 

"It also cuts out a lot of the burnout, because everything's year-round now," she said. "Basketball, you literally play like 40 weekends out of the year. It's insane. And so, when you're playing multiple sports, I feel like you still get excited for games because you're taking time off of a sport." 

Then there were the at-home humblings. With a sister and cousins a few years older than him, young Anthony also got his butt beat in all kinds of games all the time. The older ones never took it easy on him, and his family was competitive in everything. 

"They never let me win. And it was always them against me," Black said. "I always hated losing. And they always made sure to embarrass me every time I lost."

It only made him tougher, more competitive and more determined, which built him into a fantastic … football player. 

Black could have pursued the NFL

Here's Anthony Black, just a couple of weeks out from becoming a millionaire NBA player and changing his life forever. Let's peer through the sliding doors of his life and recognize how laughably easy it would have been for him to simply not pursue basketball. 

If he'd made that choice, he'd probably be a starting wide receiver at a Power Five program heading into his sophomore season. Football came especially easy to Black. At 6-4 as a sophomore and with grace and speed on the field, he was a tantalizing prospect.

Tall, rangy and with a pair of ever-reliable mitts, Black entered high school as a two-way cornerback/wide receiver before making the full-time switch to wideout. Here's the thing: He liked but didn't love football. Playing for Coppell High's freshman team in Texas' biggest division (6A), he was ready to quit football that year, but by the end of that season, he'd become a varsity-level Texas talent. College offers were soon to arrive.

"The only bad feedback I'm getting is I'm skinny," Black said. "So I'm like, OK, maybe I can actually play football."

The irony: Black was good enough to start for varsity basketball as a freshman, yet he was considered better at football than hoops. He had no traction at that point as a basketball recruit. 

"You know how like when you can first talk to basketball coaches and the kids are getting offers? That was not me," he said. 

His first scholarship offer came from Kansas — in football. More football programs soon followed in their interest. Black became one of the best players on the varsity football team his sophomore season. At 15 years old, he's being told he could eventually, maybe — seven-or-so years down the road — play on Sundays. 

Arkansas, Houston, Baylor, Cincinnati all tell him he can play football for them if he wants.

"At the time I'm thinking maybe I had to play football," Black said. 

A lot of players in Texas can't play varsity at the 6A level in basketball and football due to the schedule crunch and overlap between fall and winter sports calendars. Black was great enough at each that his coaches gave him leeway.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit in March of Anthony's sophomore year. He was approaching double-digit football offers by that point, compared to just one basketball scholarship. (It was from North Texas, in part because then-UNT coach Grant McCasland knew the Black family and had a son playing in the same grassroots program as Anthony.) Soon enough, Texas, TCU, Texas Tech and other Big 12 and SEC schools are courting Anthony heading into his junior year. He's a four-star wide receiver, one of the best in arguably the best state for high school football in the country. 

"For a minute, he really felt like he was probably gonna play football in college," his mom said. "Or maybe both. There was talk about him doing both. Baylor wanted him to do both." 

As a junior, Black is even better. In two years of varsity play, he tallied 1,327 receiving yards with 16 touchdowns in just 19 games. 

"He was getting a lot of pressure from a lot of people on what to do," Jen said. "In Texas, typically if you play football and basketball, almost always you go football." 

But his junior year was always going to be his last year. He was getting too tall. Justin Owens, who coached him, told Jen that he'd be taking Anthony's cleats away as soon as he was 6-6. 

"For a football coach to say that is pretty unheard of," she said. "He said, 'Jen, they're gonna go at his knees. He's too talented." 

After it became clear that Anthony would have options in basketball, it was time to give up football. He still would've played as a senior if asked, out of pure loyalty.

"Anthony is a pleaser, and he would run through the wall for one of his coaches," Jen said. "And I felt like that took so much pressure off of Anthony." 

There's a wide receiver on some Power Five team out there right now who has his roster spot because Black walked away. What changed? Just a few months before his standout junior season in football, the pandemic unexpectedly gave him an opportunity he otherwise would never have been provided.

2023 NBA Draft Combine
Anthony Black running through agility drills during the 2023 NBA Draft Combine at Wintrust Arena. Getty Images

How the pandemic flipped Black from 🏈 to 🏀

The deeper you get into Black's story, the clearer it is to see how many ramps he could have taken that would have prevented his meteoric rise to one-and-done NBAer status. Black was something of a late bloomer in basketball, but that's primarily because he's the rare modern example of a five-star prospect who did not play on a major circuit (Adidas, Nike, Under Armour). For four years, he played for a small, Dallas-based outfit known as 3D Empire. No team van, no shoe-company funding. A no-frills operation and true, independent youth basketball organization.

His prime years of exposure came during the heart of the pandemic which, had Black lived anywhere else except greater Dallas, he'd probably been a mid-major recruit (if he didn't pick football). Dallas, controversially, was the one place that allowed grassroots basketball tournaments in summer 2020, whereas most other areas did not have approval from local governments. 

Nike, Adidas and Under Armour all canceled their circuits that year. Thousands of D-I prospects were left with their summers to waste away, unless they ragtagged a team and organized in fly-by-night fashion. That's precisely what happened in Dallas. 

"Nobody could run from competition because everybody had to come to Texas," Black said.

A man named Kellen Buffington set up the tournaments, and it led to a number of high-profile matchups for 3D Empire, coached by Shawn Ward, which would have otherwise never faced so many four- and five-star players. (Buffington and Ward will be in New York on draft night, celebrating with Anthony and his family and close friends.) 

"I always liked basketball, even when I wasn't very good," Black said. "I definitely love basketball like 100 times more than football because I was literally about to quit football [as a freshman]. But, I knew I could play. I was glad and I was happy I was able to play football. I was just kind of waiting for my time on the basketball side."

Black's first high-major scholarship offers came within minutes of each other in June 2020 after a big weekend against high-major prospects. Anthony, Jen, little brother Beckham and David Peavy, his soon-to-be stepdad, were in the car when Chris Beard (Texas) and Jamie Dixon (TCU) called.

"It was a lot because it happened quick, but from that time on, I kind of had a target on my back," Black said. "It was different. Because I was always the other kid."

3D Empire grew into a great team. It thrived in 2020, and then when more states opened up for summer competition in 2021, Empire wound up winning the biggest basketball tournament in Las Vegas that summer. By then, Black had a bevy of basketball offers. By the time he entered his senior season, and with football no longer in the picture, he held approximately 20 scholarships each for football and basketball. (Football coaches held out hope, just in case). 

Months away from his college commitment, Black found himself in the spotlight that senior year for negative reasons. After considering changing high schools the previous two years, Jen Black decided to make the switch in the summer before Anthony's senior year, moving from Coppell to Duncanville High. 

The competition was an upgrade. That was the primary objective. She was also romantically involved with Peavy, who was the basketball coach at Duncanville. (They became a couple well before Anthony knew he could have a future in basketball.) Because Black switched schools his senior year, a local governing body flagged the move. He was withheld from competition, then got an injunction to play, only to be withheld again … before receiving another injunction from Texas' Supreme Court. 

Black played 19 games his senior season — narrowly crossing the threshold to make him eligible for consideration to the McDonald's All-American Game. 

"I wanted him to at least have a chance," Jen said. "We didn't know if he was gonna make it. He was on the bubble. But I didn't want it to be because he didn't play enough games, and so we were fighting, fighting, fighting."

Duncanville went on to win the 6A state title and was ranked No. 1 in the country. Black won MVP. In October 2022, Duncanville was retroactively stripped of its title and Peavy was suspended one season for playing Black after he was permanently deemed ineligible after the fact. A wild season soon got crazier for Black, who went from fringe McDonald's player to narrowly making the team, thanks in no small part to winning that state title.

The whirlwind continued thusly: At the end of March 2022, Black committed to Arkansas. He was good enough in McDonald's practices (where he was seen by scouts) that he got a last-minute invite (due to another player being injured) to Nike Hoop Summit that April. Soon thereafter, Black squeezed his way onto USA Basketball's junior national team. He played in Tijuana in June 2022, which led to him arriving late to Arkansas. He was almost a month behind the rest of the team, but it ultimately didn't matter. Musselman sensed Black could be his most important player. After injuries sidelined Nick Smith Jr. for much of the season, Musselman's instinct proved correct. 

In a blur, Black went from four-star wide receiver to one of the most intriguing basketball prospects to one of the best freshman in college hoops.

'He hates losing more than he likes winning'

Like many basketball coaches who ultimately chose to recruit Black, Musselman first became aware of him because his football counterparts at Arkansas were recruiting Anthony. 

"He didn't have a sense of entitlement," Musselman said. "He had a sense of, 'Hey, are we going to win? Am I going to play, and then how does my playing time fit in with the roster?'"

Black's averages at Arkansas were solid but not sensational: 12.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists. Good stats for a frosh. The tape and on/off stats tell more of the story. Per Pivot Analysis, Black was Arkansas' most consequential player from the beginning of the season until the end. The offense was 8.4 points better per 100 possessions with him on the floor, and overall Arkansas was 10.2 points better with him on the floor vs. off. 

Against SEC competition, Arkansas was -10.2 points on balance vs. competition when Black didn't play. When he did: +3.6. Immensely impactful. He also played 1,255 minutes — more than all other freshmen in the country. Musselman showed how valuable he was by hardly taking him off the floor. And while Black does not carry a reputation of being an elite-level athlete, that mode of thinking needs some realignment. Reliably playing 35 minutes per game — and doing so while battling through three injuries over the course of a season (ankle, wrist, knee contusion) — speaks to Black's athleticism just as much as it does his toughness. 

"He for sure played through three injuries and practiced through the injuries that a lot of players would not have," Musselman said. 

And certainly not players who were sure-fire top-20 picks by January.

The reason Black is going to go in the top 10 all comes back to his lifelong athletic ability and adaptability. He is the example of why playing multiple sports can best prepare many players for the pros. He's not a top-five athlete in this draft, but his athleticism is multipurpose. He's not the fastest player in this draft, but his quick-twitch is obvious. Black stands 6-5 and 3/4 inches without shoes. Wingspan: 6-7 and 1/2. His max vertical at the combine was an impressive 39.0 inches, which ranked among the best this year, and he ran the three-quarter court sprint in 3.35 seconds. A really good showing. 

The biggest room for improvement is his shooting accuracy, and he knows that. He logged 18,200 shots (in addition to untold more that weren't tracked) in Santa Barbara, California, over a five-week period after the season and prior to his WME Pro Day in mid-May. Unguarded, he made 49% of his 3-pointers and 61% overall of the shots he took, per official data tracking shared with CBS Sports. 

"I cover everything else, to be honest," he said. "I'm pretty physical and tough. I think a lot of that comes from football because you're getting hit every play. It's just all toughness, to be honest, but definitely some of the recovery speed, some of that comes from football. Angles and stuff like that."

Arkansas v Connecticut
Black's persistent defensive prowess is a major reason why he's expected to go in the top 10. Getty Images

Black's also got a huge defensive ego. He played sweeper in soccer. In baseball, he was better in the field than at the plate. The big reason he converted from cornerback to wideout in football was his height. He's never been the type to check how many points he scored after a game was finished. In his house, defense was the most celebrated thing.

"He's very, very, very competitive," his mom said. "Sometimes I think he hates losing more than he likes winning." 

He seems as dedicated and relentless on defense as any prospect in this draft. It feeds his soul.

"I don't think that he looks at it as offense is any more important than defense," Musselman said. "I don't ever look at him as thinking that one side of the ball was just way more important than the other. He's one of those guys who is a coach's dream, and the fact that he understands the importance of defense, and not just on-ball defense, but I thought he took great pride as a weak-side defender too."

Black is comfortable playing in all styles, but excels in the chaos. His penchant for pestering D is a defining feature to his appeal as a high-end prospect. 

"I have fun on defense. A lot of people don't really like playing defense, but I have fun and, I mean, it's fun seeing dudes get frustrated when they can't do nothing. And also getting scored on is really embarrassing," Black said. 

Musselman trusted him on a level he rarely does with freshmen. They'd have one-on-one meetings near the free throw line prior to team huddles during timeouts. As the season went on, Black only got more vocal and comfortable offering up advice in that setting.

"I was trying to be an assistant coach," Black said.

Black is viewed by NBA types as someone who's a near-guarantee to make a team — any team — better. He is not a prospect where fit is paramount. He has infectious energy, is an enthusiastic teammate and welcomes coaching at every turn. If Musselman told him to guard the biggest guy on the floor, or the fastest guy on the floor, Black would accept all assignments, no questions asked. 

"I think GMs all understand that the shooting will get better with reps," Musselman said. "The NBA questions have been, 'Can he really be a full-time NBA point guard?' And the answer is absolutely. The guy's 6-7. They just don't come along often, guys that are great teammates that are humble. Winning is going to be important to Anthony. He's not going to be a rookie that's thinking about individual stuff. He's gonna be thinking about how do I help this team win? He accepts roles. Easy."

Musselman told me he was the rare player who he wanted to be around as much as possible. An infectious personality, a really good wit. 

"He's always positive, he's always upbeat," Musselman said. "He just gives up an air. People enjoy being around him."

Black still credits his mom for this.

"She taught me good humility and how to be humble," he said. "And how to always see the good things instead of just looking at stuff in the worst way." 

Black's path has not only been different than most to draft night, it's been jagged, filled with detours, pump-fakes and surprises regularly dotting his journey. Somehow, once again, here he is. Ahead of a schedule that's been changing for years. Anthony Black is about to finally settle in. A team will bet big on him, thinking he's only just begun as a basketball talent. Maybe he has, and if that team is right — there seems a good chance of that happening — Black will go down as one of the best players in the 2023 NBA Draft.