John Calipari lands biggest transfer portal star yet at Arkansas for huge NIL payment

Johnell Davis has been one of the best guards in men’s college basketball the last two years. In 2023, Davis was the leading scorer on a dominant Florida Atlantic team that made an inspiring run to the Final Four as a No. 9 seed. Davis followed it up with an even better individual season this past year, improving as an outside shooter and playmaker as FAU made another tournament appearance.

Davis declared for the 2024 NBA Draft after the season ended, but also kept his eligibility and put his name in the transfer portal. When head coach Dusty May left Florida Atlantic for Michigan, it was assured Davis was gone either way. He was ranked as the No. 1 overall player in the transfer portal by some outlets, including CBS Sports.

Davis made his commitment on Tuesday night after fielding offers from some of the biggest programs in the country. John Calipari and Arkansas won out.

Davis wants to play in the NBA next season, but at the moment he’s not on ESPN’s top-100 big board and doesn’t appear in most two-round mock drafts. Respect if he wants to try to grind his way into the league on a two-way contract, but Arkansas is likely offering even more money thanks to a big NIL deal.

Davis signed an NIL deal with Arkansas worth “north of $1 million,” according to Goodman. That would put him in line with the biggest NIL earners in the transfer portal so far. Indiana reportedly paid center Oumar Ballo — another consensus top-3 portal recruit — $1.2 million for his commitment earlier in April.

It’s wild to consider that a college can outbid the NBA for a player, but that’s exactly what could happen here. Players on two-way deals in the NBA earned $559K last season, which is half of the league’s minimum rookie contract. Maybe Davis can earn looks in the second round with a big pre-draft college, but if not he has a soft landing spot as Calipari’s next star guard.

Davis won the Conference USA Player of the Year award in 2023, and was named co-AAC Player of the Year this past season as FAU jumped to a bigger conference. He’ll be expected to be an elite guard in the SEC from day one, and he’d join a hyper-talented five-star incoming freshman in a typically high-powered Calipari backcourt.

Boogie Fland was committed to Kentucky since Oct. When Calipari left for Arkansas, the incoming freshman guard followed. Fland is a slippery 6’2 combo guard ranked as the No. 19 overall player in the composite recruiting rankings. After a stand out showing in practice sessions for the McDonald’s All-American Game, it wouldn’t be too surprising if Fland starts the season projected as a lottery pick in the 2025 NBA Draft. After all, no one produces more NBA guards than Calipari — which is the reason Davis chose this destination, too.

Arkansas still has more work to do filling out the roster. Calipari landed a terrific veteran defensive center in portal with Jonas Aidoo from Tennessee. He also brought over center Zvonimir Ivisic for his sophomore season, along with most of his original incoming Kentucky recruiting class (forwards Karter Knox and Billy Richmond joining Fland) but not stud center Jayden Quaintance. There are still seven roster spots to fill.

It’s going to be fascinating to track the Kentucky vs. Calipari storyline all year with Mark Pope now installed in Lexington. The SEC arms race is heating up, and Arkansas keeps proving it’s willing to pay to compete at the top of the league.

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