Despite FBI hoops probe, Miller has rebuilt UA’s 2019 class

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Can that Sean Miller recruit, or what?!

With all the distraction of an ongoing FBI investigation into college basketball recruiting swirling around him, the 10th-year head basketball coach at University of Arizona has just pulled in one of the most coveted five-star prospects in the Class of 2019, elevating that UofA class for inclusion on the top-10 lists on most recruiting sites.

Not bad for a guy the media and college analysts had given up for dead less than a year ago.

As recently as last February, ESPN’s Jay Bilas, one of the most respected voices in college basketball, said he was pretty sure that Arizona would soon be looking for a new head coach.  “I can’t imagine him (Miller) ever coaching in college again,” he predicted on an airing of College Game Day that month.

ESPN had just reported that Miller had been sucked into the investigation of college sports corruption.  It said that Miller was caught on a wiretap discussing with a sports agent a $100,000 payment to steer the nation’s No. 1 high school prospect, Deandre Ayton, toward Tucson.  The previous fall, UofA assistant coach Book Richardson was indicted on bribery charges in an FBI investigation into high school recruiting, and Wildcat fans began the sickening wait to see if the program itself was going to be brought down.

Before the news of the corruption investigation broke, Miller had assembled the No.1 recruiting class in the country for 2019.  But before the end of the 2017-18 season, the key recruits began having second thoughts, unsure of the effect the investigation would have on the Arizona program.  One-by-one they began de-committing.  One of the most successful college coaches in the country had to dig deep and begin rebuilding the class.

Miller vehemently denied any wrongdoing, the school issued a statement of support, and Ayton was in a Wildcat uniform last season.  That team won the Pac-12 conference and tournament titles and was projected to go deep into the NCAA Tournament – but suffered a stunning upset loss to Buffalo in the first round.

The corruption investigation is still ongoing and the Arizona program continues to be mentioned in various court testimony relating to the probe.  But that doesn’t seem to be slowing down Arizona’s recruiting success.

Miller and his staff reeled in 5-star prospect Josh Green last week, which boosted the Class of 2019 to a No. 8 ranking by 247Sports.  The 6’6″ wing out of IMG Academy in Florida is the No. 8 player in ESPN’s rankings, as well as No. 10 overall and the No. 3 small forward according to 247 Sports.

Green attended Hillcrest Academy in Phoenix for his sophomore year and then transferred to IMG after a coaching change at Hillcrest.  In an interesting twist, during that season at Hillcrest, he and Ayton were teammates.

In the off-season, Green played for the West Coast Elite and averaged 20 points on the Under Armour Association circuit, shooting 57.3 percent from the field.

That time spent with the Elite helped Miller bring Green to Tucson.  Green had developed a friendship with teammate Nico Mannion, another 5-star guard who was the top-ranked point guard in the 2019 class before committing to the Wildcats three weeks ago.  The senior at Pinnacle High School in north Phoenix re-classified from the class of 2020 by taking extra courses and will be able to graduate in the spring and get a head start on his college career.

But Mannion wasn’t the deciding factor in Green’s decision to play for the Wildcats.  Although he hadn’t made an official visit, Green had visited the campus several times, enough to develop a solid relationship with the coaching staff.  He and Miller bonded early in the recruiting process.

The 2019 class also includes 3-star center Christian Koloko, who will bring some depth to the front court.

So, while the Wildcats won’t come into this season with the same Final Four expectations they enjoyed during Ayton’s one-and-done season, they have given their fan base a renewed optimism after a year of turmoil and uncertainty.

Arizona recruiting is back.