Arizona Hot on Recruiting Trail
Top 2012 forward Brandon Ashley commits to Arizona; Sean Miller is on a roll.
by Jon Jaques / @JJaques25
If it wasn’t official already, Arizona basketball is back. If you were busy minding Sean Miller’s not-so-serious flirtation with the NC State and Maryland job openings, you missed the Arizona head coach doing massive work this summer. An offseason spent absolutely cleaning up on the recruiting trail was capped off (or maybe simply continued) on Monday when top 2012 big man Brandon Ashley announced his commitment to U of A.
The recent decisions of Ashley, a skilled 6-8 forward from Findlay Prep (Nevada) ranked as high as fourth nationally by ESPN, and future classmates forward Grant Jerret (La Verne, CA) and guard Gabe York (Orange, CA), has Sean Miller poised to reel in a second consecutive elite batch of high school players.
Before we officially anoint the Wildcats the new king of the Pac-12, it would be wise to see how Miller’s first top-10 recruiting class fares in its rookie season. On paper, Arizona’s 2011 class doesn’t seem to have a weakness—star point guard Josiah Turner, smooth scorer Nick Johnson, and post players Angelo Chol and Sidki Johnson give Miller the most well-rounded group of freshman in the conference.
Arizona basketball had been in a lull from the time Lute Olson announced his ambiguous retirement until Sean Miller was hired. There was an unhealthy amount of coaching turnover in Tucson for any program, let alone one that, not too long ago, was annually in the mix for national titles.
Program stability was finally achieved with the no brainer hire of Miller. Since then, from the perspective of Pac-12 rivals, the school’s momentum has been building at an alarmingly fast rate.
Miller obviously caught a break when Derrick Williams de-committed from USC after Tim Floyd’s resignation and fell into his lap just months after being hired. But taking an underachieving program and turning a 16-15 team into a 30-win, Pac-10 champion, Elite Eight squad in just two seasons takes more than luck.
Though Williams played his way into the lottery with his bonkers NCAA Tournament performance and last season’s starting point guard MoMo Jones transferred to Iona to be closer to home, the 2011-2012 Arizona team has enough returning and plenty arriving in the aforementioned freshman class to build on last season’s unexpected success.
Seven of the team’s top-10 scorers are back and eager to prove with increased opportunity that last March’s run was about more than Derrick Williams making the rest of the country look ridiculous. Plus ‘Zona’s highly touted freshmen are ready to play now.
The rookie point guard Turner is capable of taking Jones’ starting spot from day one, and Miller has hinted that even though the backcourt may be his team’s greatest strength (with vets Kyle Fogg, Jordin Mayes, Kevin Parrom still around), it will be hard to keep the athletic Nick Johnson off the floor.
The Wildcats’ frontcourt, with an expected physical development and psychological shift, could end up being as strong as the guards. Experienced players like Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom (who can swing down to the forward) and Kyryl Natyazhko who deferred to Williams last season will be looked to for more production.
And the fun may just be starting in the desert. Not resting on the laurels of his current 2012 class of blue chips, Miller is still involved with a handful of top-100 high school prospects going into their senior year of high school.
The entire Pac-12 is picking its game up. UCLA’s recruiting is suddenly kicking again with the summer additions of Jordan Adams and Dominic Artis and its involvement with national top-10 recruits Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson. Lorenzo Romar consistently brings in gem classes at Washington, and Oregon seems to be in the process of picking itself up after a few down years. But no program in the conference seems to have the surrounding buzz that Arizona does now. The Wildcats could soon become that elusive elite Pac-12 team that the conference has been dying for the past few years.
Jon Jaques is a former starter for the Cornell Big Red and former forward for Israel’s Ironi Ashkelon club.