Defiant revival in the desert: An FBI investigation hasn't stopped Arizona from hauling in top recruits
Things weren't easy at Arizona in the immediate months following the FBI probe, but Sean Miller is taking his territory back
After a year's worth of drama, suspicion, job uncertainty, widespread doubt, internal investigations, external investigations and unending speculation over his future in -- or out of -- college basketball, Arizona coach Sean Miller finds himself in familiar territory.
To the surprise of some, the 49-year-old coach has the Wildcats once again near the top of the recruiting rankings. On Thursday, five-star small forward Josh Green verbally pledged to Miller's program. He became the second five-star player, and projected one-and-done prospect, to commit to UA in a three-week span. Nico Mannion, who might be the best point guard in 2019, . A 7-footer named Christian Koloko popped for Zona on Sept. 23 as well.
The FBI's investigation into corrupt recruiting practices in college basketball cost Miller untold damages, some of which he'll probably never get back, to his public reputation. It also cost his assistant, Book Richardson, a job at Arizona. It might have cost the two men something more on a personal level. Since Richardson's arrest, Miller has not been in contact with his longtime friend, Richardson's wife recently told Stadium.
The job goes on. It's moving to big gains with Miller still in the catbird seat. Arizona publicly and defiantly stood behind Miller throughout the mushroom-cloud arrival of the FBI's investigation a year ago, then reaffirmed its belief in its man after a still-disputed ESPN report NBA pick Deandre Ayton.former Arizona freshman and eventual No. 1
The details of that call, and/or others unknown, might get clarified in the coming weeks as the first of three high-profile federal trials plays out more than 2,100 miles from Tucson, in a Manhattan courtroom. Arizona's already been mentioned there: the defense teamfor 2018 five-star guard Nassir Little.
Again, we await details and context on that as the trial unfolds. Unlike Oregon, which was tossed in on a separate claim regarding Brian Bowen Jr., Arizona has not commented on the accusation tied to Little.
But for all that could come in court and potentially bring more bad publicity to Miller and Arizona, it might not mean much. Not only has Miller not been charged, nor been found guilty of anything according to the local investigations, he's not even on the potential witness list for the current trial.
So Arizona is pushing forward as though the FBI's case was an over-the-top traffic stop.
Sean Miller's recruiting is thriving in the face of federal chaos.
In landing Green, Miller and his assistants beat out the two most recent national champions, Villanova and North Carolina, plus Kansas, USC and UNLV. For Mannion, Arizona held off Marquette, Duke, Kansas, Oregon, USC and UCLA. National recruiting expert Evan Daniels, of 247 Sports, anticipates Arizona to wind up with a top-five recruiting class in 2019 -- perhaps as high as No. 3.
That would be impressive, but also a return to the norm.
Before the FBI case rattled Arizona and so many other programs in college basketball, Miller was recruiting on the level of the two titans in college hoops: Mike Krzyzewski and John Calipari. Here's where Arizona landed annually in 247 Sports' class rankings under Miller, dating back to 2011:
- 2011: No. 4
- 2012: No. 3
- 2013: No. 11
- 2014: No. 3
- 2015: No. 3
- 2016: No. 9
- 2017: No. 3
- 2018: No. 22
The 2018 class came after the FBI ordeal, and even then it didn't eject Arizona out of the national recruiting conversation. Miller reeled initially, losing five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly almost immediately after the FBI story broke (Quinerly's commitment to Arizona Brandon Williams, who eventually doubled back and kept with his Arizona pledge.). Then came the de-commitment from Shareef O'Neal, now at UCLA, and coveted point guard
Now, with some stability regained, it looks like Miller's on his way back to chasing for the mountaintop. His team could be the Pac-12 favorites again come 2019-2020. The Mannion commitment wound up being huge, as it made easy pathway for Green: the two were teammates on the spring-and-summer grassroots circuit, playing for Under Armour's West Coast Elite.
Also of note: Green committed prior to taking his official visit to Arizona, which will be the weekend of Oct. 12. He'll be there with Mannion, and so will another five-star player in the class of 2019, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. If Miller can beat out bluebloods again for Robinson-Earl, Arizona's first No. 1 ranking would be possible.
Calling this a rebound might be an undersell. This is a whiplash back to recruiting relevancy. You can crack all the predictable money-bag jokes you'd like about Arizona landing top talent. At this point Miller, who's publicly and loudly proclaimed his integrity in recruiting, would have to be a madman or the sport's most hellbent cheat to not make sure every commitment was on the up and up. (Some will, cynically or not, accuse him of this regardless.)
Miller has maintained all the while that he's innocent. Whether or not that's entirely true, what matters for him, his university and these new recruits, is that they believe it. All apparently do. No threat of NCAA sanctions is slowing the program at this point. And because of that, Arizona and Miller have managed to emerge into some sunshine while the storm clouds still swirl over the trial back east.
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