Basketball recruiting at UA: What Would Lute Do?

The University of Arizona basketball program just got another taste of what the future might hold.

But the Cats’ head coach, Sean Miller, will have to hold his breath until the fall to find out whether the five-star recruit who made an unofficial visit to the campus this weekend will come back for another look.

And that has a lot of fans, who have been disappointed too many times already, unable to get too excited.

Damien Leonard, a 6’4″ shooting guard from South Carolina who can also play wing, made an unofficial visit over the weekend, and says he was impressed enough to come back in the fall for an official visit.  Leonard is a five-star recruit that includes Oklahoma State, South Carolina, Clemson, and Virginia Tech on his short list of potential homes in the fall of 2011.

If Leonard were to commit, it would be the first time Miller has snagged a five-star.

His AAU coach, who made the trip to Tucson with him, says he’ll cut the list to three by end of summer.  And there’s a good chance the Wilcats will make the cut.

Problem is, the roundball fans in the Ol’ Pueblo have been down this road quite a few times in recent months.  Arizona reportedly had a good shot at Josh Selby, Doron Lamb, and Ray McCallum – big-time catches – but they went elsewhere.

Then Terrence Jones, a 6-9 forward and Top 50 recruit from Oregon, announced he was signing with Washington, but various reports also say he may be having second thoughts and is considering Kentucky.  He, too, was considering Arizona on one time.

And Eloy Vargas, a 6’11” forward from Miami-Date Junior College, had UA on his list until Saturday, when Coach John Calipari called him and convinced him he should come to Kentucky.  Vargas was scheduled to visit Arizona earlier this month, but didn’t make the trip.  He did go to Kentucky, and that was all it took.

So, Wildcat fans have to be salivating at the thought of having Leonard, who many consider the country’s top high school shooter in his class, join with Daniel Bejarano, a combo guard from North HS in Phoenix and the No. 1 prospect in the state who can light up the scoreboards, too.

And add to that another 2011 prospect, Jahii Carson from Mesa HS, who includes Arizona on the list of schools he’s considering.  Carson is a 5’10” guard who jumps like he’s 6’7″ and broke his high school’s records for points and assists – as a junior.

They’re out there, and interested.  But can Miller reel them in?

If you’re a long-time UA fan, you have to wonder: What Would Lute Do?

Lute Olson did a masterful job of recruiting, which built the tradition that Arizona still enjoys today.  So what did he do differently than Miller?

Not much, actually.  Miller is trying to build a program that has depth and doesn’t turn over a lot of players each year.  Think Kentucky, which has to replace nine players this year.

Lute had the kind of depth that carried his teams at tournament time.

And Miller is particular about the kinds of players he brings into the program, looking for those who will fit into the ‘family’ culture that he believes in – and has been a staple of the UA program for many years.  Lute and his wife, Bobbi, treated the players like they were all part of the family, and even opened their home to them.

Miller still has a scholarship available for this year, but readily admits he won’t use it this year unless he has the right kind of player, one who fits into the Wildcat family.

The only discernible difference seems to be where they are finding their recruits.  Lute was heavy into prospecting the California, Oregon, and Washington markets.  Miller is having most of his success on the East coast.

But the tradition that Olson built over the years is not providing the same incentive to recruits that it once did.  The program has struggled over the past five seasons, and Olson is already a couple of years removed from being the famous face of the program.  It’s been over a decade since the Cats won their national championship.

But when recruits arrive on the Tucson campus and get the tour of the impressive facilities and ogle the trophies, titles, and Wildcat lore, that sense of tradition hits them in the face.

Now Miller just needs to convert that sense of awe to commitments.

It’s What Lute Would Do.