Rivera: Cats may not need Stephenson to succeedby Steve Rivera on May. 07, 2009, under Sports
Sean Miller is off and running. Where the new Arizona basketball coach takes the program – and who he lands – is anyone’s guess.
But this much is known: He has three solid signings from forward Solomon Hill, wing Kevin Parrom and center Kyryl Natyazhko.
Whether New York City shooting standout Lance Stephenson, the No. 8 recruit for next season’s class, is in the mix is unclear. But Arizona may not need him to succeed next season.
There’s no question Stephenson is a dynamic player, but his character – given his desire to get to the NBA as quickly as possible – might not be a good fit for Miller’s system. Why risk it? What’s to gain for one season?
Stephenson, a 6-foot-6 guard-small forward from Coney Island, N.Y., and his coach Dwayne Morton did not return calls left by the Tucson Citizen. His other apparent choice is Memphis.
Even people in Memphis, where former UA assistant Josh Pastner is the new head coach, don’t know what to think. The Memphis Commercial Appeal’s Dan Wolken wrote on Wednesday: “Stephenson’s recruitment has been difficult to read, however, and even the coaches involved are not sure where things stand.”
What’s undeniable is how well Miller has done in such a short time after being named UA’s coach a month ago. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, however, because one of the big reasons UA athletic director Jim Livengood pursued Miller was his ability for getting players.
“Spectacular,” said longtime UA men’s hoops fan George Kalil of Miller’s arrival and quick accomplishments. “Everywhere I go and when I get an e-mail or a phone call, people say to me Arizona could not have gotten a better guy or a better coach.
“People absolutely love him.”
It’s the feeling – or vibe – I’ve been getting in Tucson, too. Here it is in early May and people are talking about basketball.
Recruits. Future. Potential.
“I’m thrilled,” Kalil said. “It’s like this town has been born again.”
Not that the climb had to be that high, lest anyone forget UA has gone to 25 consecutive NCAA tournaments, and just two months ago was in the Sweet 16.
But compared to recent previous highs – UA won the 1997 national title and went to the 2001 Final Four – the Arizona program is down. Miller is capable of returning UA to the elite level. He took Xavier to the Elite Eight and Sweet 16 the last two seasons.
He may not contend for a national title right away, but he’s looking at every player possible.
My guess is UA doesn’t get Stephenson, who also has the option of going to Europe for a season or two before making an attempt at the NBA.
Stephenson already has been labeled a one-and-done player for next season, and coaches don’t build programs with those types. Miller never directly talked about such players in a meeting with the media two weeks ago, but he spoke about building a program with players who were good fits.
It’s hard to say if Stephenson is a good fit.
Good talent, yes.
Steve Rivera’s e-mail: email@example.com