Top Arizona basketball recruiting stories of the decadeby Javier Morales on Dec. 16, 2009, under Sports
The end of the decade is almost two weeks from now, and when it comes to UA hoops recruiting, many fans are looking forward to changing the page to the next decade with UA coach Sean Miller establishing his program with his own players.
Former UA coach Lute Olson had his triumphs in the decade, including discovering before the 1999-2000 season diamond-in-the-rough player Gilbert Arenas, who later became an NBA All-Star. However, the decade ended on a particularly sour note as top-flight recruits abandoned the program in the wake of Olson’s leave of absence and sudden retirement.
Arenas arguably is the best least-sought recruit to attend Arizona, topping Steve Kerr, who was only recruited by Gonzaga (not a similar power at the time) other than Arizona, and Jordan Hill, who chose the Cats over Clemson, Georgia State, South Florida and Vanderbilt.
Two of Olson’s five Pac-10 Freshman of the Year winners were signed during the decade — Salim Stoudamire in 2001 and Chase Budinger in 2006. However, that number should have at least been three. Somehow Arenas and backcourt mate Jason Gardner were not selected the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year following the 1999-2000 season. Gardner, meanwhile, was chosen a national freshman of the year by three media outlets, including the U.S. Basketball Writers Association.
Casey Jacobsen of Stanford and Jason Kapono of UCLA were the Pac-10′s co-freshmen of the year that season. They were on the Pac-10′s all-freshman team along with Arenas, Gardner and Oregon State’s Brian Jackson.
Olson had other recruiting victories in the decade, such as Phoenix’s Channing Frye (who in 2001 continued the trend of the state’s best talent attending Arizona) and Andre Iguodala (who attended the UA after gaining a release from his 2002 letter of intent at Arkansas following the Nolan Richardson buyout).
As Olson’s career came to a turbulent end, the UA’s recruiting identity faltered as well. Talented players like Brandon Jennings and Abdul Gaddy (Washington) opted to play somewhere else. In Jennings’ case, his travels took him to Italy, where he would play professionally instead honoring his signed letter of intent.
Jerryd Bayless, a Rivals.com 5-star recruit in 2007, played one season at UA under interim coach Kevin O’Neill and then bolted to the NBA. Olson returned from his leave of absence saying he would no longer go after one-and-done players like Bayless. As it turned out, Olson would not recruit anybody because his Hall of Fame career came to an end.
Arizona’s five-star recruits in the decade never really materialized to their recruiting hype. The best of the bunch turned out to be Budinger (2006). However, after capturing the Pac-10 freshman of the year honors, Budinger’s UA career became stagnant (in conjunction with Olson’s leave of absence and retirement) until he declared for the NBA draft after his junior season. He failed to become the lottery pick he envisioned, lasting until the 44th pick overall in the second round by Detroit (which traded his rights to Houston).
The following is a list of the top UA recruiting developments of the decade (1999-2000 season to the recruitment of the Class of 2009). Which one do you think is the most significant development? (The picks are listed in relation to the description provided):
1. Gilbert Arenas signs with Arizona, which beats only Kansas State and DePaul for his services, and he averages 15.4 points a game as a freshman in 1999-2000. He also is the second UA freshman to score at least 500 points (Coniel Norman was the first in ’72-73).
2. Jason Gardner, a heralded point guard recruited out of Indianapolis, captures the 1999-2000 national freshman of the year honors from Basketball Times, ESPN.com and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association.
3. UA coach Lute Olson inks Salim Stoudamire, who follows in his cousin Damon’s footsteps by attending Arizona, and is selected the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year following the 2001-02 season.
4. Ndudi Ebi, a Class of 2003 forward-center recruit who was rated No. 4 overall by Rivals.com, opts for the NBA draft and is selected by Minnesota late in the first round. His NBA career never pans out. He currently averages 14.6 points and 13.8 rebounds for Riviera Solare Crabs Rimini of the Italian professional league.
5. The only five-star recruits to sign with UA in the decade — Ebi (2003), Mustafa Shakur (2003), Jawann McClellan (2004), J.P. Prince (2005), Chase Budinger (2006), Jerryd Bayless (2007), Jamelle Horne (2007) and Brandon Jennings (2008) — generally had unfulfilled careers at Arizona. Horne is a junior, so he might buck this trend, but not in this decade.
6. Chase Budinger is praised by Olson as the best recruit he’s signed and the standout from San Diego promptly wins Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honors after averaging 15.6 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Olson did not coach him again and Budinger struggled accordingly his sophomore and junior seasons.
7. Olson’s leave of absence in 2007-08 and abrupt retirement before the 2008-09 sets recruiting back for Arizona. High profile recruits Jennings (Italy), Jeff Withey (transfer to Kansas), Emmanuel Negedu (Tennessee), Abdul Gaddy (Washington), Mike Moser (UCLA) and Solomon Hill (USC) changed their minds about attending Arizona. Hill switched back to UA following Sean Miller’s hiring.
8. Jennings, the No. 4 prospect in the country out of the prestigious Oak Hill Academy, commits to Arizona in June 2007 and eventually signs a national letter of intent. However, Jennings causes a national story after his senior season when he decides to play professionally in Italy instead of await his SAT score.
9. Miller, who is hired in April 2009 as Olson’s permanent replacement, is lauded by recruiting experts for his first class, which comprises of five players: Lamont “MoMo” Jones, Derrick Williams, Kyryl Natyazhko, Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom.