What is it about Tucson that is drawing the studs in college sports?
It’s always a big deal for a college when one of its major sports pulls in a top-10 recruiting class. It’s something else again when two major sports accomplish that feat in the same season.
For the latest example of that unusual accomplishment, look no farther than the University of Arizona campus.
The UofA baseball recruiting class for 2020 is ranked No. 4 in the nation, according to both Collegiate Baseball and Baseball America. That marks the highest ranking for any baseball recruiting class in the history of the program.
And the Wildcats’ men’s basketball program snagged the No. 5 class in the country. It’s the second straight class ranked fifth-best in the nation.
The men’s basketball program has enjoyed a steady diet of top-10 recruiting classes since Sean Miller took over as head coach 11 years ago – nine classes in the top 10, six of those in the top five in the country.
That recruiting success has been the key to Arizona’s return to national prominence following the departure of Hall of Fame coach, Lute Olson, who passed away last month. The results speak for themselves: five regular-season conference championships, three conference tournament titles, an average of 20+ wins a season, and a .740 winning percentage (285-100).
Miller’s .702 winning percentage in conference play ranks behind only Olson and UCLA’s John Wooden.
Jay Johnson (photo above), on the other hand, is still working on building a foundation for the baseball program. He was hired as head coach in June of 2015, had an impressive start to his reign by winning 49 games his first season – second-most in program history – but has been stuck in neutral since then, averaging just shy of 35 wins for the next three full seasons. The team was 10-5 last year when the season was cut short by the pandemic.
A top-5 recruiting class could go a long way to getting things unstuck.
Johnson was hired, in part, because of his ability to recruit. He spent just two years as head coach at Nevada, so he didn’t have time to prove his chops on that career stop. But during his eight years as associate head coach at San Diego, prior to the Nevada job, that program brought in a couple of recruiting classes ranked No. 1 and No. 2.
Now, in his sixth season guiding the Arizona program, he’s validating that part of his resume. His players’ success after leaving the UofA program also points to the caliber of recruit he has been pulling in. During his time in Tucson, he has produced 26 Major League selections, 14 of them going in the top 10 rounds of the MLB draft.
“I’m passionate about finding the right players and how they fit into the team dynamic, and their potential to develop,” he explained during the press conference at his hiring.
It appears that passion is once again showing significant results.
And soon we’ll find out what he can do with all that talent he’s rounded up.