A casual observer flipping through the 2014 USA Basketball U18 Media Guide might wonder if the “A” stands for Arizona. First, there’s USA assistant coach Sean Miller, the head coach of the Arizona Wildcats. Then there’s Stanley Johnson, one of three veterans and gold medal winners returning to lead the team, who is headed to the University of Arizona this fall. After that comes Justin Simon, who is verbally committed to play for Miller and Arizona in 2015. And add to that Isaiah Briscoe, Allonzo Trier, Stephen Zimmerman, and Chase Jeter, who all mention Arizona as one of the top schools recruiting them, and the Wildcat connection is obvious.
No other school was represented on all three levels (coach, incoming player, commit), although Duke and Syracuse were close. With almost a third of the roster having ties to Arizona, the Training Camp might has well have been in Tucson. Even Bruce Pascoe, local Arizona reporter, was in the building.
Ever since the Dream Team, every kid grows up wanting to play for their country. And now it seems like many of those same kids are growing up wanting to play for Sean Miller and the Arizona Wildcats.
“I’ve been playing in front of Sean Miller for years,” said Stanley Johnson. “But this will be my first chance to play for him and I’m looking forward to it.”
Justin Simon enjoyed and appreciated the time he had with Miller, even though he did not make the final roster.
“I’ve been waiting and waiting to play for Coach Miller,” Simon said. “Just to get an earlier experience than some of the other guys have.”
Isaiah Briscoe has known Miller for years, but not in this capacity.
“It feels a little weird,” said Briscoe. “When we talk, we talk about coming to Arizona and recruiting, but now he’s actually coaching me and on the sidelines. It’s weird, but I feel comfortable.”
That comfort can’t be understated in recruiting world. But of course you won’t hear Miller talking or worrying about any of that.
“To me it takes away from USA Basketball if you go in there as a coach with the intent of recruiting,” Miller said. “That’s not what this is about. What it’s about is building a team, coaching that team, and winning a gold medal.”
That’s all well and good for the company line, but regardless of what the training camp is about, the advantages for Arizona are obvious.
Lots of college coaches have heralded recruits coming in this fall. And many of those recruits will be gone by the spring, leaving little time for coaches to work with their star players. Miller will enjoy a head start with Stanley Johnson, as he gets to spend two weeks coaching, teaching, and bonding with Johnson.
“It will be beneficial to him and also for our team,” Miller told Pascoe. “We’ll get to know what he does well. I would say the environment here, because it’s so competitive, you see what he’ll be able to do as a freshman at the college level, because this is very representative of that.”
Then there’s the chance to evaluate the next wave of talent. Coaches have limited time this summer to watch and evaluate players, which forms the basis of their recruiting strategies. And while all of those coaches have to wait until July, Miller gets two weeks in June to watch and work with the nation’s best players.
At the very least, this provides an immeasurable advantage in getting to know the players that coaches will battling for. But more importantly, it gives Miller the opportunity to make specific decisions about his next recruiting class.
Going into the camp, Arizona had two 2015 commits in Tyler Dorsey and Simon, as well as two recruits in Briscoe and Trier. Trying to decide from afar which guards form the best backcourt is a daunting task. But Miller had the luxury of watching them compete with and against each other at the highest level. He doesn’t have to wonder how they play together, he knows. And virtually every other coach doesn’t.
Calling the Training Camp an Arizona audition isn’t just cheeky hyperbole, it’s proving to be true. Two days after failing to make the team, Tyler Dorsey decommitted from Arizona to explore other options. In a sense, getting cut from the USA roster was the same as getting cut from Arizona.
And the two most likely players to replace him? That would be Briscoe and Trier, who are currently practicing with Miller. Miller won’t have to guess which player responds better to his coaching or better fits his style of play. It’s likely the one that ends up at Arizona will be the one that played the best. It’s hard for Arizona fans to imagine a better situation.
So while USA Basketball will remain front and center, as it should, the Arizona backdrop can’t be ignored. And with USA Basketball moving their headquarters to Phoenix next year, that backdrop is about to be real.
“This is a big-time move for USA Basketball,” said Jerry Colangelo, USA Basketball chairman, when the move to Tempe was announced. “All of amateur basketball will flow through our facility.”
The best of amateur basketball flowing through 100 miles from McKale Center, with Coach Miller on the court? Sounds like a dream come true.
“Our program here at Arizona has a long and successful relationship with USA Basketball and I’m honored to add to that legacy,” said Miller.
That relationship is poised to become much more successful. Enjoy the ride.