Sean Miller’s recent recruiting success unparalleled at Arizonaby Javier Morales on Aug. 29, 2011, under Sports
I can hear the Lute Olson die-hards now after reading that headline.
“What do you mean unparalleled?” they will say. “Ever heard of Sean Elliott? Mike Bibby? Brandon Jennings (even though he never attended Arizona)?”
“What about that class that had Richard Jefferson, Luke Walton and Michael Wright in 1998?” they’ll argue.
Olson’s best two-year recruiting run arguably was in 1998 and 1999, on the heels of his first NCAA title with the Wildcats in 1997.
In 1998, Olson signed Jefferson, Wright and Walton (key components to the 2001 Final Four team) along with Ricky Anderson, Ruben Douglas and Traves Wilson. Anderson became a senior leader in 2001-02. Douglas and Wilson transferred after their freshman season. Douglas became the NCAA’s leading scorer as a senior at New Mexico.
In 1999, Olson inked Gilbert Arenas and Jason Gardner, one of the best backcourt combinations in the program’s history. Little-used Robertas Javtokas and Lamont Frazier were also part of the class and they did not last.
Compare those two classes with the assortment of talent Sean Miller has attracted to Tucson the last two years.
The Class of 2011 includes perhaps the best point-guard prospect in the country in Josiah Turner and one of the most dominating shot blockers in the nation in Angelo Chol.
Add to that the athleticism, playmaking and strong defense of Nick Johnson and the upside of post player Sidiki Johnson (unrelated).
Miller’s Class of 2012 effort, already fruitful, became bountiful Monday with the verbal commitment of Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep multi-skilled forward Brandon Ashley. The UA beat UCLA and Kentucky for Ashley, who is rated No. 4 overall in the ESPNU 100 ratings.
Post player Grant Jerrett of La Verne (Calif.) Lutheran High School is rated No. 9 by ESPNU and off-guard, wing prospect Gabe York of Orange (Calif.) Lutheran is No. 36.
Two Top 10 prospects in one class smacks of Kentucky and John Calipari, who lost a recruiting battle to Miller for Ashley despite his popularity and Kentucky’s Final Four berth last season.
The man most responsible for Miller’s recruiting success the last two seasons? No, it’s not Miller, although he has shown he can close the deal with the best of them, including Calipari and Mike Krzyzewski.
The man, or make it The Man: Derrick Williams.
Before Miller came to Tucson in 2009 (bringing the relatively obscure Williams with him in his first recruiting class), he never recruited a Five-Star recruit like Ashley and Turner.
What opened the door for Miller is Williams’ progression to a No. 2 NBA draft pick. Any highly-rated prospect these days thinks the NBA is a foregone conclusion. They want to play for a coach who will get them there. Sean Miller, we now know, can get them there.
Williams not only elevated his draft status as a sophomore last season, he took Arizona on his back to a magical Elite Eight run. That NCAA tournament ride pushed Miller and the Arizona program back over the hump to where Olson basked in the eyes of top-notch recruits all those years.
Turner committed to Arizona last September after his AAU teammate Nick Johnson pledged to Miller. What helped Turner’s decision was how Miller and his coaching staff demonstrated they can develop players like Williams with a proven, balanced system that incorporates nine to 10 players a game.
Miller and his staff, most notably his top assistants Book Richardson and James Whitford, deserve their pay after making believers of these Class of 2012 standouts.
However, if he has not done so already, it would not be a bad idea for Miller to call Williams and offer a “Thank You”.