Tune in later this month when the FIBA Americas U18 Championships are played in Colorado Springs to get a glimpse of the immediate future of University of Arizona men’s basketball.
The Wildcats’ latest recruiting coup, Stanley Johnson, will be on the floor with some of the nation’s best young ball players, playing for Team USA. The 6’7″, 235 pound forward is the crown jewel of Coach Sean Miller‘s impressive 2014 recruiting class, but before slipping on a Wildcat uniform, the 5-star prospect will join his teammates on the USA Men’s U18 National Team.
And then he belongs to Miller, who will use his exceptional talents to take another run at a national championship.
Actually, the two will be working together even before he steps on the floor at McKale Center, since Miller will be on the sidelines this summer as an assistant coach with the men’s national team.
But this glimpse into the future will likely be short-lived because Johnson is destined for the NBA, sooner rather than later. He’s considered by most recruiting services to be among the top five players in the class of 2014 and already projected as a potential lottery pick in the 2015 NBA draft.
So Miller may only get a year to take advantage of his services, but that could be a big year.
Actually, it’s a bit of deja vu for the fifth-year head coach. Last summer, it was Aaron Gordon that helped Team USA to a gold medal at the FIBA U19 World Championship in Prague and earned tournament MVP honors in the process. Then the 6’9″ small forward averaged 12.4 points and eight rebounds as a freshman Wildcat to lead No. 1-ranked Arizona to the Pac-12 regular-season crown and an Elite Eight appearance in the NCAA Tournament that fell one basket short of a berth in the Final Four.
Gordon is projected as a top-10 pick in the June 26 NBA draft.
Not surprisingly, Gordon was a one-and-done and Miller is re-loading for next season after also losing Pac-12 Player of the Year Nick Johnson, who left a year early to jump to the NBA, and his 7-foot senior center, Jordan Bachynski.
However, Johnson and his supporting staff in this year’s highly-rated recruiting class, may keep the program from skipping a beat.
The California product who led his Mater Dei High School to four straight state championships should have an immediate impact in the Arizona program. Like Gordon, he is a versatile player with the strength and size to play inside and the quickness of a guard to play outside. During his high-school career, he played every position on the floor, including point guard during his senior year.
The acquisition of Stanley Johnson marks the fourth year running that Miller has snagged the top high-school player out of California.
Johnson will likely fit into a starting rotation that includes a returning cast of veterans in point guard T.J. McConnell and Gabe York in the back court, Brandon Ashley and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson at the forward positions, and 7-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski.
But Miller won’t have to play Johnson at the point because he has a seasoned point guard returning in McConnell and a top-10 recruit at that position in Parker Jackson-Cartwright. That will let Miller play Johnson at the shooting guard or small forward where he will be in a better position to contribute points and help on the boards. Last season at Mater Dei, Johnson averaged a team-high 25 points, while pulling down eight rebounds a game – not to mention almost four assists per game.
Jackson-Cartwright may have been the second-biggest catch in the six-man recruiting class that will step on the floor in the fall. The five-star prospect is an athletic point guard that has hops which enable him to play well above his listed 5’9″ height. Coming out of Loyola High School in L.A., he was rated by ESPN as the seventh-best points guard in the 2014 class.
The rest of the four-star talent joining the roster next season include JUCO transfer Kadeem Allen, Dusan Ristic, Craig Victor, and D-I transfer Ryan Anderson.
Anderson has signed a financial agreement at Arizona and will sit out the coming season after transferring in from Boston College, where the senior forward already has three seasons under his belt and was an All-ACC selection two of those years. A double-digit scorer and a top-10 rebounder in the conference, he was named the California Mr. Basketball and a Gatorade State Player of the Year while at Long Beach Poly High School.
So Miller will have another seasoned leader on the floor for the 2015-16 season who, until today, was shaping up to be another potential top-10 recruiting class. The crown jewel of that 2015 class, Tyler Dorsey, has reportedly de-committed from the Arizona program.
The 6-4 combo guard from southern California committed to Arizona in January, becoming the program’s first member of the class of 2015. A big-time scorer who Miller has been recruiting since Dorsey was in eighth grade, he was considered by at lest one major recruiting service as one of the two best junior guards in the country and generally regarded as an overall top-10 prospect.
But Miller always seems to have another prospect waiting in the wings. His recruiting success since arriving in Tucson is becoming the stuff of which legends are made. Even Herb Sendek, his rival down the road at Arizona State, has called his results “absolutely astonishing.”
The 2014 class was ranked by Rivals as the third-best in the country, behind Duke and Kentucky. Miller’s classes have been ranked in the top 10 each of the last three years.
The Cats should be ranked as the pre-season favorite to win the Pac-12 and will likely be among the nation’s top 10 teams as they approach their Nov. 14 opener against Mount St. Mary’s.
But how they finish the next season will have a lot to do with how well Miller is able to blend the new with the old. Once again, he has some incredible talent with which to work his magic.
He just has to mold it into another title contender. How hard can that be?
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)