In a way, Arizona basketball sells itself. The weather is great, the facilities are state-of-the-art and the McKale Center is packed every night, where the Wildcats have led the Pac-12 in attendance each year since 1985 and almost never lose.
The program has history. Lute Olson steered Arizona to 11 conference championships between 1985-2005, a run that included five trips to the Final Four and one national title powered by Miles Simon and Mike Bibby in 1997. Arizona basketball has always been good, at least over the last three decades. Sean Miller is looking to take it to an even higher place.
With the commitment of explosive 6'6 wing Terrance Ferguson last week, Miller locked down his fourth five-star recruit in the class of 2016. Ferguson joins a group that already included point guard Kobi Simmons, shooting guard Rawle Alkins and power forward Lauri Markkanen.
Arizona isn't just recruiting the West Coast. Ferguson is from Dallas, Alkins is from New York, Simmons is from Georgia, Markkanen is from Finland. In his seven years on the job, Miller has built this thing up to a national power with international reach. If a five-star star recruit isn't going to Duke or Kentucky, there's a good chance they're choosing Arizona.
Over the last six years, Miller has recruited as well as anyone this side of John Calipari and Mike Krzyzewski. Arizona has finished exactly No. 3 five times over the last six years in 247 Sports' class rankings. Four of those times, only Duke and Kentucky have been above them:
That lowly No. 11 class Arizona put up in 2013? Yeah, that one included top-five draft pick Aaron Gordon and fellow first-rounder Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Not bad for a "down" year.
Miller can point to five first-rounders and three lottery picks (Gordon, Stanley Johnson and Derrick Williams) when he's out on the recruiting trail. He can point to a system that emphasizes defense but still lets its best athletes get up the floor. He can point to three Elite Eights in the last six years, and the chance that you, dear five-star recruit, can finally be the player that pushes this program back into the Final Four.
Arizona didn't have a no-brainer, one-and-done last season like it did the previous two years with Gordon and Johnson, but that's likely to change next season. Ferguson, the MVP of the Hoops Summit, might be the best shooter and best athlete in the class of 2016. Even in a 2017 NBA Draft that already looks stacked, it's easy to envision him as a lottery pick if he shows some sort of in-between game on offense and a willingness to lock down on defense.
Markkanen is currently projected as a one-and-done by DraftExpress as a 6'11 stretch big man. Simmons, at 6'6, looks like an NBA point guard from the shoulders down. Alkins is already a big, physical two-guard who's built a bit like another Brooklyn native, Lance Stephenson. This is a recruiting class with four potential pros.
There's another five-star waiting to make his debut for Arizona this season, too. That would be Ray Smith, a bouncy 6'8 forward who is recovering from a torn ACL. Smith could swing between the three and the four to give Arizona a super-athletic spread attack.
With last year's top recruit, Allonzo Trier, also coming back for his sophomore season, and a rock up front up in junior seven-foot center Dušan Ristić, Arizona is primed to be loaded for 2016-17. Miller will have to figure out who takes the reigns at point guard between Simmons, 5'9 junior Parker Jackson-Cartwright and former JUCO transfer Kadeem Allen. He'll have to figure out if Smith or Markkanen fits better at the four.
Most importantly, he'll have to get everyone playing for Arizona and not for themselves. Ferguson, Alkins and Trier are all going to want touches and shots to show off for NBA scouts. It could be a dicey proposition, but Miller has done well to get super-talented teams to all buy in in the past.
Duke and Kentucky still stand above the rest of college basketball. Kansas has a way of attracting singular talents, from Andrew Wiggins to Josh Jackson to possibly the top player in the class of 2017, DeAndre Ayton. But Arizona is right there. This type of consistency on the recruiting trail should scare the rest of the country. From top to bottom, next season's team has the chance to be Miller's most talented squad yet.
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