Sean Miller has two 7-footers in his University of Arizona basketball line-up, his team is 16-2 and on a 10-game winning streak, and the Wildcats are off to one of their best conference starts (5-0) since Miller took over eight years ago.
Life is good. What could make him happier?
How about another 7-footer and a handful of four-star recruits to mix into next season’s returning roster?
While the Wildcats have been busy tacking on victories to build a strong argument for being able to go deep into the post-season this year, next year’s roster, which could lead the Cats to their first Final Four appearance in Miller’s reign, is forming.
And that begins with 7’0″ DeAndre Ayton, the No. 1 prospect in the 2017 class. The coveted big man signed with Wildcats last September so that he could focus on his senior season at Hillcrest Academy, the recently-established school in east Phoenix that focuses on basketball and sets up games for its national team with other elite programs around the country.
The most recent trip was last weekend to Springfield, Mass., where Hillcrest participated in the Spalding Hoophall Classic which annually showcases some of the nation’s elite high school programs.
Hillcrest drew Westtown School from Pennsylvania in the Saturday night marquee game, which put Ayton up against the No. 4 prospect (ESPN 100) in the 2017 class, 6’11” Mohamed “Mo” Bamba. It was the match-up that everyone had been anticipating.
Hillcrest lost the game, but Aynton won the scoring match-up by putting up 21 points while holding Bamba to nine. Bamba collected 14 rebounds, while Aynton posted a double-double by pulling down 10 boards.
You can bet the Arizona coaching staff was keeping one eye on that game – and loving every minute of watching their incoming recruit.
But it wasn’t just Aynton that held their interest in that game against Westtown. The guy that was doing most of the damage to Hillcrest was Brandon Randolph who led the Westtown team with 28 points. Yep, Randolph, the 6’8″ shooting guard ranked the No. 40 prospect in the nation by ESPN, is also headed to Tucson as part of a recruiting class ranked No. 1 in the nation.
Contributing to the top-rated class is another Arizona product, Alex Barcello. The 6’2″ guard from Corona del Sol High School in Tempe was named the Gatorade Arizona Player of the Year as a sophomore and last year was rated the best prep basketball player in the state by 247Sports.
If that wasn’t enough to keep the Arizona coaches smiling all the way to National Signing Day in a couple of weeks, there was another player at Hoophall that is said to be considering joining the Wildcat party for next season. He would bring another big frame, as well as a big name to the Wildcat program.
His father, Shaquille O’Neal, was at the event watching his 6’10” son building his game as a junior at Crossroads School in California.
Shareef O’Neal is currently ranked No. 18 (ESPN 60) in the Class of 2018 and is reportedly considering UofA among his choices for college. He has a friend who is coming in with the Class of 2017 and that might be a strong enough draw to get him to the desert. Ira Lee is a 6’8″ power forward from Los Angeles who was ranked No. 68 by ESPN and signed with the Wildcats in October.
Arizona sent assistant coach Book Richardson to keep an eye on its recruiting prizes during the Hoophall Classic and will no doubt be watching with keen interest when the McDonald’s All-American game at the United Center in Chicago tips off on May 29.
Aynton just received word he would be included in the field of the nation’s top high school players, the only player from Arizona that will be in the field of 24 players that will form an East team and a West team.
He will be playing with, and against, recruits from top schools like Duke and Kentucky, which together will have six recruits on the floor.
Since some of these prize recruits are still uncommitted, there will be a large contingent of D-I college coaches at the game. And you can count on at least one of those being from Arizona.