Seven weeks ago, the University of Arizona men’s basketball program was mired in the muck of a recruiting scandal that has rocked the world of college basketball. An assistant coach was indicted in a widespread FBI investigation into recruiting practices before the season began, and the head coach, Sean Miller, was implicated at the close of the regular season in an ESPN article that claimed he was caught on a wiretap.
A promising season ended in the first round of the NCAA Tournament when the No. 4-seeded Wildcats were upset in a stunning 21-point loss to No. 13 Buffalo. Its top-10 2018 recruiting class began dissolving as the top talent de-committed and began looking elsewhere to find a program not tainted in the scandal.
It was a proud program in disarray. To say the least.
The school administration is standing behind their head coach, who just completed his ninth season in charge of the program, although his contract was amended to include harsh penalties should he eventually be charged in the ongoing investigation.
Two of the top three recruits that left the fold had already found new homes, with Shareef O’Neal (Shaq’s kid) committing to UCLA and Jahvon Quinerly landing at Villanova. But before the obituary could be finalized, Miller hit the road to watch the other escapee, Brandon Williams, play his final year of high school ball. Miller was determined to convince Williams to return.
According to one report, Miller made four trips to California over a six-week span to watch Williams play and maintain a presence in his recruitment.
Williams had narrowed his list of target schools down to Arizona, Oregon, and Gonzaga and had made visits to the other two schools before deciding to return to Tucson. It’s hard to tell what the deciding factor was, but it would appear his chance of getting the kind of playing time he wants would be more of a sure thing at Arizona, where Miller is having to reload with the kind of talent that wouldn’t play ahead of the 6’2″ guard who is ranked No. 32 in his class and the No. 7 point guard (247Sports composite).
The 4-star prospect from Crespi Carmelite High School in Encino averaged 24.7 points in his final season at Crespi.
Williams finally announced his decision to return to the Wildcat program last Saturday. But, while Miller and his staff awaited Williams’ decision, they were busy building the roster with other talented freshmen and a couple of graduate transfers to add some instant experience.
Miller picked up commitments from a couple of 4-star high school recruits last month to get the ball rolling. Devonaire Doutrive was the first to sign for the 2018 class and was followed less than a week later by Omar Thielemans.
Doutrive is a 6’5″ guard from Van Nuys, Calif., who can also play the point, while Thielemans adds some additional height to the line-up. Thielemans is a 6’7″ wing from Belgium who can play several positions on the floor, thanks to his size and athleticism. Doutrive is ranked by 247Sports as the No. 83 player in the 2018 class.
A couple of grad transfers were also added, bringing the incoming class to five members, with room for two more. Ryan Luther, a 6’9″ forward, joins the Wildcat program after a successful career at Pittsburgh, while Justin Coleman transfers in from Samford University (Alabama) to provide depth at the point-guard position.
Luther missed 10 games of his senor season at Pitt because of a foot injury, but still led the Panthers in scoring with 12.7 points a game, and rebounding with 10 boards per outing. Coleman played two seasons at University of Alabama, where he saw plenty of playing time and occasional starts, before transferring to Samford.
Williams’ return is especially significant because, with his addition, Arizona’s recruiting class broke back into the top 25 in the country, ranked at No. 21 by 247Sports.
That’s a drop from the glitzy top-five rankings of recent years, but a good start back toward respectability.
And, with these studs now in the corral, it will be interesting to see what Miller does with those last two scholarships.