The ball bounced off the front of the rim and Arizona’s next game – just like that – went from a March Saturday in Houston to a November Monday in Tucson. And then a lot happened. Let’s take a look at the five biggest stories of the 2011 Arizona basketball off-season.
Sean Miller Stays
This is a storyline no Arizona fan ever wanted to see but there’s a silver lining to it: Sean Miller isn’t going anywhere. He took that meeting in Las Vegas and chose to stay in Tucson – music to Wildcat ears.
Need proof that Miller staying was a big deal? The day after nearly leaving he still hosted Shabazz Muhammad and had the top player in the 2012 class thinking Arizona could be his next stop. He has the Wildcats in most pundits’ preseason top-15; a direct tribute to Miller’s reputation as a talent developer as he loses his best player (Derrick Williams) and 47% of last season’s scoring output. Sean Miller is Arizona basketball and the program could not be in better hands. As he continues to gain steam as a recruiter, coach, and program builder, you can expect to see Arizona playing in early April.
Momo Jones transfers
Arizona is has been one of the most successful college basketball programs in college basketball since 1984. It’s also been called point guard U. Coincidence? I think not. Great guard play is often a recipe for success and last season’s 30-8 record was no fluke. While Momo Jones may have been slightly erratic, he was a winner.
The ball was in his hands in some of the most critical moments of the season and heading into an all important junior year in which he was to be the team leader, the loss of Jones raised many concerns about the team moving forward. How do you replace a 30-win point guard? Who will fill the leadership void? How will Jones’ 9 ppg and 2.4 apg be replaced? Much was made of the transfer on a national level and it appeared to have many experts concerned about Arizona’s 2011-12 campaign. That would make sense seeing as Jones was the top returning scorer on a top-20 team.
Wild Recruiting Success
Make no bones about it; NCAA championships are won with NBA-caliber talent. In Arizona’s lone championship season there were three lottery picks (Terry, Bibby, Dickerson) and one First Team All-America (Simon). So when you can add the third rated player of any class – the highest rated recruit of Miller’s career and the highest rated Arizona commit since Brandon Jennings – you’re setting yourself up for success.
But it doesn’t stop with Ashley. Garnering commitments from three top-30 prospects, Miller is putting heavy pressure on the rest of the conference – if not country – to keep up. The haul includes big men Kaleb Tarczewski and Grant Jerrett and off-guard Gabe York. The progress of the current team and the addition of this top class should have Arizona an early favorite to compete for the 2012-12 title.
Arizona’s Fab Four
The fourth best recruiting class in the nation came to Tucson. Headlined by the big, strong, penetrating beast of a point guard, Josiah Turner, much of Arizona’s pre-season hoopla has surrounded this young talent. The 6’3” pure point out of Sacramento has been the presumed court general since he committed to the Wildcats last November. So when Jones announced his intentions to transfer and the national media went haywire, the AZ faithful knew what they had coming.
And while Turner no doubt highlights the class, the rest of the class ain’t too shabby neither. Nick Johnson can hop out of the gym and lockdown on defense; Angelo Chol is a workaholic with a knack for blocking shots and could develop a lethal post game; and Sidiki Johnson arrives able to immediately bang with the big boys. Perhaps bigger news, in light of the rampant non-qualifiers nationwide, is that all four qualified. Then again, I have to believe Miller wouldn’t pursue kids who were a qualifying risk. There’s too much at stake to waste time on non-qualifiers. Overall, this is a fantastic class and should contribute to Wildcat success for many years to come.
Kevin Parrom Shot
First, allow me to address the real issue: this is scary and sad and I’m glad the extent of the damage is what it was and nothing more serious. Basketball be damned. This was a monstrosity and Kevin was the victim of a crime. Subsequently, more has been piled on with the loss of his mother. During this trying time he is fortunate to have a support network of family, friends, coaches, and the Arizona community. He’s a strong smart kid. He’ll come out of this for the better.
On the court, this hurts the Wildcats. Arguably the best player on the team, Parrom’s absence for an unknown amount of time limits the team’s development and he will be missed. The good news is that Miller’s system – especially without a prolific scorer like Derrick Williams – is one that can allow a player to easily integrate later in the season. As Arizona runs ten players deep, moving Kevin back into the lineup, whenever that may be, will be nothing but a strong addition.