Following recruiting is a little bit like falling down the rabbit hole. As you go deeper, present day reality fades further and further away. There are, as we speak, droves of people drooling over YouTube mixtapes of 8th graders. That’s right, 8th graders. Things have a away of getting curiouser and curiouser when you’re that far down the hole, and believe it or not there are people mad enough to go deeper.
So while the recruiting virgins might find it premature to discuss Arizona’s 2015 freshman class, the recruitniks will tell you that this is like seeing the white rabbit for the first time.
Arizona’s 2015 class started off with a bang in January, securing a commitment from five star guard Tyler Dorsey. Dorsey will likely extend the Wildcats’ streak of having at least one top 10 recruit to four consecutive years.
At 6-4, Dorsey has great size for a college guard at either position. But therein lies the most polarizing issue regarding Arizona’s top committed prospect: is he a point guard or a shooting guard?
There are a lot of people whose opinion I respect that will tell you Dorsey is not a point guard. They’ll cite low assist numbers in high school and AAU competition, they’ll paint him as a ball handling scorer, they’ll tell you it’s just not in his DNA. But they’re wrong.
I’ve seen a lot of Dorsey, and he’s a point guard. Or at least, he will be. Sure, he doesn’t pile up assists. And yes, his greatest strength is scoring. But Dorsey has lead guard instincts that don’t manifest in box scores or mixtapes.
Why not? He simply hasn’t been asked to play that role yet. At the high school and AAU levels, teams need Dorsey’s scoring ability way more than they need him facilitating for others. That’s perhaps most clear with Dorsey’s AAU team, Dream Vision, as they compete through the 2014 adidas Gauntlet. Dorsey shoulders the bulk of the team’s scoring with over 19 points per game, 10th best in the league, while playing alongside 5-9 point guard Paris Austin out of Bishop O’Dowd.
And Dorsey still ranks top 10 in the league for assists.
But it’s about more than just assists. Dorsey is more than capable of running an offense when asked to do so. I remember watching Dorsey on the AAU circuit about a year ago, when he was playing with Belmont Shore and fellow top recruit Daniel Hamilton. Hamilton, a natural scorer, was lighting up the gym and hitting shots from just about anywhere. Capitalizing on the hot hand, Dorsey played a natural point guard role — and he shined.
Dorsey showed parts of his game that weren’t on display before: he was penetrating and kicking, luring defenders then exploiting them with slickly timed passes, and finding guys in the half court set. Most of the world knows Dorsey for getting to the free throw line and scoring from all three levels, but that night he was doing his best Rajon Rondo impression. And it was moderately convincing.
At Arizona, Dorsey won’t have to score like he does now, so you can expect more of those natural point guard skills to come out. And teams will still have to respect his scoring ability, so Dorsey might find enough room to operate and truly blossom into the point guard I have seen flashes of. Dorsey won’t ever play the game like TJ McConnell, but he has the ball handling, vision, and creative instincts to play the position in college and the NBA.
Arizona’s 2015 class will include another guard that can play the point in Temecula Valley’s Justin Simon. Like Dorsey, Simon is an athletic guard with great height at 6-5. Simon is a much better passer though, ranking 6th so far in the adidas Gauntlet with 4.3 assists per game.
But the similarities to Dorsey pretty much end there. What makes Simon special is defensive ability, his length and quickness allow him to cover just about any perimeter player.
Simon’s bread and butter are deflections, steals, and blocks, which he racks up with ease. Yet he also has a great handle and looks to create for others first when he has the ball, making him a dynamic player on both sides of the floor. He’s second in the adidas Gauntlet with 2.4 steals per game, and has a top 12 assist to turnover ratio (43:28 or 1.5:1).
Stats don’t tell the whole story, though. Simon is a crafty ball handler and passer, the kind of guy who will unexpectedly whip the ball with his rangy arms to an open teammate after the blow by. He has great vision, and more importantly, he looks to pass before anything else. That’s a tremendous asset, even if Simon doesn’t handle the ball full time at Arizona.
After seeing the way Sean Miller used and developed perimeter defenders like Nick Johnson, you should be salivating over what he could do with Simon. Lock-down potential is putting it lightly, Simon could be an absolute defensive terror once he gets his collegiate sea legs. No matter where he is deployed on offense, Simon will thrive defensively.
Between Dorsey and Simon, you can see the perfect Venn Diagram of guard skills. On the Dorsey side you have offensive talents, and on the Simon side you have the defensive, with the overlapping middle representing point guard skills. What this equates to from a basketball perspective is great interchangeability. Miller is acquiring pieces that he can play in a multiple spots, which increases the number of lineup permutations, thereby solving future matchup problems. Yet each player still has distinct strengths.
If there’s anything that has defined the way Arizona has recruited perimeter players recently, it’s versatility. There’s perhaps no more versatile a player in the 2015 class than Ray Smith, and Arizona has been in hot pursuit. Smith, a 6-8 guard-forward hybrid, is a do-it-all type who contributes in a variety of ways. He can handle the ball, pass, rebound, and has deceptive athleticism.
Smith is a smooth, skilled player. And while he might not truly excel at any one facet of the game, Smith would be the perfect complement to fill in the gaps alongside Dorsey and Simon. He has too much talent to be pigeon-holed as a glue guy, but Smith could become that cohesive player that makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts.
Arizona is in good position to secure a commitment from Smith, who plays on the same Dream Vision AAU team that Dorsey does. But the Wildcat staff will have to keep the pedal to the metal, as Smith continues to rise up recruiting rankings. Still, the fit appears to be right for both sides, and Arizona fans should be crossing their fingers that Smith pulls the trigger on coming to Tucson.
It might seem weird that no post players have been discussed so far. After all, Arizona has been loaded with McDonald’s All-American big men in recent years. And if things go right for Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski next year, both could go to the NBA. That would leave a huge void in Arizona’s frontcourt, solidifying the need to bring in a new wave of talented bigs in the 2015 class.
Ivan Rabb would be the perfect fit to fill that potential void. The 6-9 forward is a mobile, fluid athlete with shot blocking prowess. He’s just beginning to fill out his frame and develop his offensive game, but he is already the best post player in his class due to the rapid improvement he has shown over the last two years. Rabb would immediately step into Arizona as a defensive centerpiece and likely one of the team’s top scorers.
But when you recruit a player that talented, there is competition. As arguably the #1 player in the class, Rabb is being recruited by the best. Both Georgetown and North Carolina are contenders to pull Rabb from California, and both offer a rich history of developing pro’s. But if Arizona can add Rabb and Smith to Dorsey and Simon, look out. That would certainly compete for the top class in the country without any more additions.
Another name to keep an eye on is 6-11 big man Chance Comanche, also out of California. Comanche could develop into a very good defensive center with the ability to step out and hit jumpers. That alone is enough to put him on most radars, not to mention his tremendous athleticism for the center position. In the scenario that Arizona loses both Ashley and Tarczewski after this year, Comanche could be a big time get for Arizona.
No matter what happens with roster turnover beyond the 2014-15 season, the 2015 class is shaping up to be critical. With expectations set at the championship level for the second consecutive year, Arizona could extend their contender status with another great recruiting class.
Could we be in store for “Simon Says Championship,” part two?