There was a moment in late September when the past and the future of Arkansas women's basketball collided. Former Razorback Chelsea Dungee, in between her rookie season in the WNBA and her international season in Turkey, stopped by for a workout.
"I think it gave us all a little burst of energy when she walked through the doors," coach Mike Neighbors said during a preseason tipoff press conference.
Lose players such as Dungee, the school's all-time leading scorer and No. 5 pick in the 2021 WNBA Draft, and Destiny Slocum, the No. 14 pick, and most programs would be expected to take a step back. After all, the Razorbacks are coming off victory totals of 22, 24 and 19, back-to-back winning SEC seasons for the first time since joining the conference and one NCAA Tournament trip, which would be two if COVID hadn't canceled the 2020 tournament.
Neighbors said he understands if outsiders don't expect as much from the Razorbacks without Dungee and Slocum because "those were some great players. I think we're going to surprise some people who just look at who's graduated and who you're returning and things like that."
Analysts might want to consider the return of redshirt senior guard Amber Ramirez and the arrival of three former McDonald's All-Americans. Ramirez was named to the preseason All-SEC second team by the league coaches after averaging 13.5 points a game last season, third on the team behind Dungee and Slocum. The sharpshooter known as "Splash Sister" made 77 3-pointers, 11th in the nation, while shooting 43.5 percent from deep, which was 15th in the country.
She'll be joined by those three former high school stars, each of whom hails from the Fayetteville area. There's 6-5 freshman Jersey Wolfenbarger, a Naismith High School National Player of the Year finalist, who played on
the U.S. team that won the FIBA U19 World Cup gold medal in August; 6-4 freshman Maryam Dauda, a Naismith semifinalist; and 6-1 sophomore Sasha Goforth, who transferred back home after making the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team at Oregon State.
While Goforth already has proved herself at the college level, Neighbors said the freshmen Wolfenbarger and Dauda have the right stuff to step up and be counted on right away.
"Even though they have been stars, they're team people. Team-oriented. Team, team, team," he said. "Neither one of those are going to be small in any pond when they walk through the door, that's for sure."
One thing that distinguishes this Arkansas team from its recent predecessors is size. There are four players 6-3 or taller, topped by the 6-5 Wolfenbarger and the 6-4 Dauda.
"Everybody that walks in the gym," Neighbors said, "that's the first thing that is commented on, the length and the size that we have that we haven't had in the past." But he vowed that, despite so many new faces and new roles, his team will continue the up-tempo style that's helped Arkansas make national noise. Last season, the Razorbacks beat No. 3 UConn and No. 4 Baylor.
"I just like seeing the freshness every day when they look around to see who's red or who's white," Neighbors said. "It gives us a sense of competitiveness knowing that we're all still one team at the end of the day."