Miller still landing top recruits at UA despite FBI probe


Local prep star Dalen Terry committed last week to play for the University of Arizona basketball program.

Terry is a four-star recruit who played his junior season at Hillcrest Prep in Phoenix before joining the Wildcats’ 2020 recruiting class.  Ranked as a top-40 prospect by more than one recruiting service, the point guard/shooting guard/small forward was getting his share of offers from college programs.

But instead he chose a school still in the midst of upheaval from an ongoing nationwide FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball.

The UofA has been touched by the scandal.  One of the school’s assistant coaches, Book Richardson, was caught up in the FBI nets and prosecuted for taking money to land a recruit.  He’s just beginning a three-month sentence in federal prison.

The ultimate goal for any elite athlete in the sport is to be offered by a program that is expected to enjoy success in the postseason, maybe even with a chance to win a national title.

But Arizona is still living with the possibility it may, at some point, be hit with sanctions that would make it ineligible for the NCAA Tournament at the end of the season – not to mention a myriad of other possible penalties.  No chance for a coveted ticket to the Big Dance.  No March Madness.

Arizona head coach Sean Miller, who has been implicated in the scandal but so far has not been charged with any wrongdoing, is on the tip of the spear as the criminal probe, which is being joined by an NCAA investigation, continues.  So far, the university is still standing behind its embattled coach.

For most of his nine years as the Wildcat head coach, Miller has been pulling in top-10 recruiting classes, and the dark cloud hanging over the Arizona program appears to have done little to dampen his recruiting efforts.  This season, the 247Sports Composite ranks his 2019 recruiting class as fifth-best in the nation, behind only Memphis, Kentucky, Duke, and Villanova.  And ahead of tradition-rich programs at schools like UNC (8th), Lousiville (11th), and Kansas (15th).

Terry, who is ranked by at No. 6 in the country at the guard position, is the first to commit to the 2020 class, joining a couple of McDonald’s All-American guards, Nico Mannion and Josh Green, who are already on board as part of the four-member 2019 class.

Miller has continued to successfully mine the local market to fill his cupboard with back court players.  That started decades ago when the UofA program earned the nickname ‘Point Guard U’ after securing the services of players like Mike Bibby, Steve Kerr, Jerryd Bayless, Damon Stoudemire, and others who went on to enjoy successful careers in the NBA.

Prior to playing at Hillcrest, Terry was at Corona del Sol High School in Tempe, where he played his freshman season.  Mannion was a standout at Pinnacle High in north Phoenix.

And Alex Barcello, the Arizona Republic Player of the Year as a senior at Corona del Sol, was scooped up in Miller’s recruiting nets before announcing last month he would be transferring out of the program after playing in 30 games last year as a sophomore.

Evidently, Barcello’s unexpected departure didn’t shake Terry’s faith in his decision to head to Tucson next year.

But what was important to Terry was the value that Miller could bring to his college career.

A top-rated point guard at Pittsburgh, Miller can call on that invaluable college experience to help reach potential recruits.  And his success as a head coach, first at his alma mater and then Arizona, includes four times as conference Coach of the Year, once in the Atlantic 10 Conference and three times in the Pac-12.

Even more important to these recruits is the fact that he has taken 11 teams into the NCAA Tournament, reached the Sweet 16 seven times, and made it to the Elite Eight four times.

That’s solid evidence of potential success that he can present to each prospect he talks with on the recruiting trail.  All that other stuff, right now, is something that may never happen.

That’s the gamble that Miller has to get these talented teens to accept in exchange for a great college experience.

So far, they’ve been willing to roll the dice with him.