There’s a new version of the popular Jenga game in Tucson. It’s called the University of Arizona men’s basketball program.
In case you’re not familiar with the game that hit the market in 2007 and became a best-seller for the Hasbro toy company, participants start with a sturdy tower made from wooden blocks. Then, one-by-one, they take turns removing the blocks until the whole stack comes crashing down.
The decommitment to the Wildcat program just days ago by 5-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly could be the block that begins the dismantling of next year’s top-rated recruiting class.
Quinerly was touted as the crown jewel of UofA’s Class of 2018, considered the top prospect at his position in the state of New Jersey and the No. 4 point guard prospect in the country by ESPN. With him on board, dreams of a national title were beginning to fill the heads of Wildcat fans.
He committed to Arizona on Aug. 8 in a high-profile decision announced during halftime of the SC30 Select Showcase on ESPNU.
But that was before the Sept. 26 announcement that Arizona assistant coach Book Richardson, along with three other assistants from top college programs, had been indicted as part of a federal investigation into charges of bribery in high school recruiting. That revelation rocked the college basketball landscape and put a huge question mark over the UofA program and head coach Sean Miller‘s future.
So far, the university is standing behind its hugely successful ninth-year head coach. But it’s still early in the investigation and the impact on recruiting is hard to predict.
However, it has already begun to take its toll on the Wildcat program. It’s believed that at least four top-10 high school prospects who have dropped Arizona from consideration did so as a result of the uncertainty that hangs over the program as the FBI continues its investigation. Richardson was removed from the program as soon as the university was informed about the investigation.
We do know that a couple of weeks ago, Simi Shittu, a 5-star prospect from Vermont, cancelled a campus visit that was scheduled for Nov. 3. And shortly after that announcement, another 5-star prospect, Bol Bol, reportedly dropped the Wildcats from his short list.
While Shittu avoided using the investigation as his reason for canceling, Bol, a 7’2″ center and son of former NBA standout, Manute Bol, made it clear why he was steering around Tucson. He told the media: “The schools being investigated, I personally want to stay away from them.” He also ended his consideration of USC for the same reason.
Louisville, where head coach Rick Pitino lost his job, is the most high-profile of those schools being caught up in the scandal, but other major universities are also being dragged into the mess.
Perhaps the biggest blow to Arizona came from R.J. Barrett, the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2019. The 5-star wing from Canada had Arizona among those in consideration. The 16-year-old gained global recognition by leading the Canadian team to a gold medal at the FIBA U19 World Cup, earning the tournament’s MVP award after averaging 21.6 points and 8.3 rebounds against international competition.
Just the mere fact that Arizona had even a chance at the young phenom, but no longer, has to hurt big-time.
Since Quinerly is thought to be implicated as one of those athletes who may have taken a bribe, his decision to de-commit from the Arizona program may be a moot point. If he is found to have taken money, his eligibility would have been revoked and he wouldn’t have ever taken the floor in McKale Center – or likely play for any other college.
The good news, at least for now, is that Brandon Williams and Shareef O’Neal are still honoring their commitment to the Wildcat program. Williams is a 4-star guard who can also play the point, something that becomes an important consideration now that Quinerly is gone, and O’Neal, son of NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal, is a 4-star power forward. There has been considerable speculation, however, that O’Neal may flip his commitment, with the most likely beneficiary being Kentucky.
So how difficult does it now become to load up with other top 4-star and 5-star prospects while carrying this kind of baggage along on the recruiting trail?
After years of rounding up Top-5 recruiting classes, the Arizona program was beginning to take on the momentum of a snow ball rolling downhill, gathering velocity as it sped along.
Now, however, that snow ball has hit a speed bump and may be breaking apart.
And only time will tell whether Miller can get the ball rolling again.