NOTE: The following blog was first published last year at WILDABOUTAZCATS.com. It is updated with new analysis here. We are revisiting the content because the spring signing period starts Wednesday. You can reach Javier at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Derrick Williams was selected the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year after being recruited in Sean Miller's first class (Photo by Jason O. Watson, US Presswire)
Many coaches would agree that a recruiting class must be given at least three years before placing a value on it. So at the conclusion of the 2012-2013 season we can determine where the Class of 2010 — Sean Miller’s second at Arizona — rates among those classes in the modern era (since Fred Snowden was hired in 1972).
One argument: A recruit talented enough to play one season before entering the NBA should elevate the value of that class in spite of the three-year evaluation period. That is certainly true, but in my opinion a higher value should be placed on what a class does to sustain the program’s performance over the long haul. After all, it is called a “class”, meaning it’s a group of individuals headed to college to compete together from year to year (or class to class).
Miller’s theme to date: Recruits are headed to Arizona to help build a winning program, not build a team.
His first group is an indication of how well he can recruit, especially in a limited amount of time (he was hired on April 7, four months before the next school year started). The class, which included Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Derrick Williams and sparkplug guard Lamont “MoMo” Jones, had similar success to the first class of recruits signed by Fred Snowden and Lute Olson in their inaugural seasons.
Look at some of the names Snowden and Olson were able to attract in a short period of time, also a four to five month window after their respective hire (Snowden was hired in March 1972 and Olson in March 1983):
Snowden: Ron Allen, Al Fleming, John Irving, Eric Money, Coniel Norman, and Jim Rappis.
Olson: Steve Kerr, Eddie Smith and Pete Williams.
Snowden’s first group of recruits was coined the “Kiddie Korps” because of their youth leading the Wildcats into a new era (McKale Center also opened that season). Money and Norman left to the NBA after their sophomore seasons, and Allen was a JC recruit. Irving transferred by his junior season.
Fleming and Rappis, as seniors, were part of the 1975-76 team that came one game from reaching the Final Four. With teammate Bob Elliott at center, they lost at UCLA in the West Regional final after keeping it close for two-thirds of the game.
Olson’s class in 1983 did not have a nickname but they were part of his Phase I project of instilling a winning attitude into a program that went 4-24 under Ben Lindsey the year before his arrival. Van Beard played all but three minutes as a freshman before transferring and Michael Tait transferred during his sophomore year. However, Williams, Smith and Kerr left an enduring mark on the UA program.
Williams and Smith, both junior college transfers, and Kerr helped lead the UA back to the NCAA tournament in Olson’s second season. The Wildcats qualified for the NCAA tournament every year afterward until last season. Kerr, as a senior, along with Sean Elliott captained the Wildcats to their first Final Four appearance in 1988. Kerr went on to win five NBA titles, the most by a former Wildcat.
The best recruiting classes in the modern history of Arizona basketball, in my opinion: 1, The 1985 class with Sean Elliott, Anthony Cook and Kenny Lofton; 2, The 1972 class with Money, Norman, Rappis and Fleming; and 3, The 1994 class with Miles Simon, Michael Dickerson and Ben Davis. How can you argue against a class that won a national title? That’s what Simon (Final Four MVP) and Dickerson did three years after they signed with Arizona.