Connor Vanover said leaving Cal for Arkansas was emotionally tough but ultimately was a “business decision.”
“I was hesitant at first. I really didn’t want to go,” the 7-foot-3 freshman center said in in a phone interview Wednesday evening, hours after announcing on social media he picked Arkansas over Vanderbilt and Cal.
“If you had asked me at the beginning or middle of March, I would have said no chance I would even think about (leaving),” he said. “As more time went by, I had the thought, `What if there’s a better opportunity out there?' That was the reason I put my name in the transfer portal, to experiment to see if there was something better than Cal.”
That last sentence will no doubt get a reaction from some Cal fans. But Vanover meant no disrespect.
“I've made a lot of friends at Cal just over one year. I really like the place. It’s a special place,” he said. “Once I started thinking about it more, I thought it’s a business decision. It’s not just about the people around me. It’s what’s best for me.”
One obvious plus is that Arkansas is located in Fayetteville, less than 200 miles from Vanover’s family in Little Rock. He indicated he intends to apply for a transfer waiver that could allow him to be immediately eligible, based on health issues of his grandmother, who is in her mid-80s and living in a nursing home.
But Vanover also was impressed by new Arkansas coach Eric Musselman, who led Nevada to three straight NCAA tournament berths and has experience coaching in the NBA.
“I liked how kind of intense Musselman was. He’s really passionate about basketball, about players and being the best he can get everyone to be. From a player development standpoint, he really intrigued me on how he can help me develop my game and get bigger and stronger.”
Vanover averaged 12.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocked shots over the final 12 games last season, and will arrive at his new school excited about his potential.
“I definitely felt a lot more confident toward the end of the season,” he said. “I’d say just playing, even losing all the games we did, there’s still tons of stuff we learned as people. Learning to fight through adversity, learning to persevere … those things can help in the future.”
Arkansas is in need of a center, so Vanover hopes he can step into a significant role from the start.
“I can be a big versatile player for them, inside and out, stretch the floor,” said Vanover, who led Cal in blocked shots but also has 3-point shooting range.
Vanover finished final exams on Tuesday night — “They were hard,” he said — and expects to stay close with several members of the recruiting class he arrived with at Berkeley. Vanover and fellow freshmen Matt Bradley, Andre Kelly and Blake Welle are vacationing together in Hawaii next week.
He expects his former team to thrive going forward under new coach Mark Fox.
“I think they’ll do great things,” Vanover said. “Coach Fox is really taking them in the right direction. They’re starting things new, but changing things up to make things a lot better than they have been.
“I think they’re going to make some noise.”