Arizona basketball recruiting: Despite lingering FBI cloud, Sean Miller has rebuilt top-25 class
The Wildcats have come along way since all their recruits jumped ship in February
The story published late on a Friday in February -- a bombshell report from a reputable ESPN writer alleging that Arizona's Sean Miller had been caught on a wiretap discussing a pay-for-play scheme involving star freshman Deandre Ayton. By the following morning, there was a growing feeling in basketball circles that Miller might be cooked; he didn't even coach the Wildcats later that night at Oregon. And yet here we are now, nearly 11 weeks later, and not only is Miller still employed, he's slowly, but convincingly, remaking Arizona's roster on the fly despite the uncertainty of the ongoing FBI investigation still lingering.
That's the tweet from four-star prospect Brandon Williams that sent Arizona fans into a frenzy this weekend because it was an important recruiting development that doubled as a reason to believe Miller's best days in Tucson might not actually be behind him -- which seemed possible, if not likely, a couple of months ago when he first lost Class of 2018 star Jahvon Quinerly following the arrest of assistant Book Richardson, then lost Shareef O'Neal and Williams when ESPN published the story alleging a pay-for-play scheme involving Ayton. Even if Miller survived that eventually refuted story -- which he obviously did, albeit with an amended contract -- his recruiting class was wiped out. And when you consider that Richardson continues to face federal prison, and what he may or may not have said, or will say, to federal authorities remains a mystery, the likelihood of rivals using the FBI investigation to negatively recruit against Arizona, and in turn make rebuilding more difficult than it otherwise would be for Miller, has always been, and continues to be, extremely high.
But it didn't work with Williams.
He recommitted to the Wildcats on Saturday -- less than a month after fellow Class of 2018 four-star prospects Devonaire Doutrive and Omar Thielemans also committed to Arizona. So now Miller has a top-25 recruiting class, according to 247 Sports. And that doesn't even take into account the fact that Arizona has secured commitments from graduate transfers Justin Coleman (Samford) and Ryan Luther (Pittsburgh), both of whom will be eligible immediately and expected to help the Wildcats avoid a disaster next season.
Will Arizona be as good as usual?
Probably not -- considering the Wildcats lost all five starters from a team that won 27 games, an outright Pac-12 regular-season title and the Pac-12 Tournament (before being upset in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament). Simply put, you don't replace five starters, pros among them, with three top-115 prospects, none of whom are ranked in the top 30, and a couple of grad transfers from schools that combined to finish 18-46 last season and just pick up right where you left off. This sport, with very few exceptions, doesn't work that way.
But to focus on that is to miss the point entirely.
Because the point is this: Arizona should be respectable next season even though it appeared, during the final weekend of February, that Miller would, at worst, lose his job or, at best, keep it but with a roster lacking the talent to compete for a trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2019. That's a remarkable turn of events. And it should be noted that Arizona remains one of three schools involved with five-star Class of 2018 prospect Jordan Brown. So there's a chance things could get even better before the games start in November.
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