The biggest news in college basketball this offseason happened Tuesday: the commitment of the top prospect in the 2017 class.
DeAndre Ayton chose to play for Sean Miller and the Arizona Wildcats over the Kansas Jayhawks and Kentucky Wildcats.
Ayton, a seven-footer, is arguably the biggest get for Miller in his time with Arizona. Furthermore, he can dramatically shift the balance of power out West, though it is worth noting that Miller and crew were doing fine before landing someone this heralded.
A specific thought came to mind when the nation’s most-prized recruit chose Arizona over two other blue blood programs which were perceived to be leading the race to land Ayton: Miller has sneakily become one of the nation’s best recruiters, and save for Kentucky’s John Calipari, he might be the best.
With Ayton having officially committed to Arizona, Miller’s track record for landing lauded recruits is rather stunning. No, he’s not luring in four or five McDonald’s All-Americans during each offseason like Kentucky — though that’s even closer to currently happening than most realize — but he’s doing the next best thing:
He’s getting everyone else.
Over the course of a few seasons, Miller has secured the commitments of Kaleb Tarczewski (fourth overall prospect in the 2012 class), Aaron Gordon (fourth in 2013), Stanley Johnson (seventh in 2014), and now Ayton (first in 2017).
That’s essentially a top-seven player or better each offseason over the last four years. The lone season in which he didn’t do that was 2015, but he still ended up having the third best recruiting class in the country, according to 247Sports. We will touch on the 2016 class in a minute.
The 2017 class, which was a top-10 class before Ayton’s commitment, also features four-star point guard Alex Barcello. Obviously, that class is still taking shape.
Since Miller landed in Arizona in 2009, the Wildcats have recruited at an exalted level. Moreover, the coach hasn’t rested on his laurels one bit, and is seemingly improving upon his already considerable abilities as a recruiter.
The idea has long been — deservedly, I might add — that the recruiting trail is owned by Calipari, and everyone else is just picking up the scraps left in his wake. However, as is evident with several former Arizona commitments, and increasingly highlighted by Ayton’s, Miller has turned Arizona back into a destination spot for the best high school players in the country.
A new battle is beginning in college basketball. This figurative battle is happening off the hardwood. Miller is winning it against the other 300-plus Division I programs in the country, and is quickly catching up to Calipari.
Yes, the Duke Blue Devils and Kentucky Wildcats might both have insane incoming classes that will help their chances during the 2016-’17 season, but Miller continues to lurk in the shadows on the West Coast — sneakily and consistently putting together as superb a set of classes as any other in the nation.
Miller’s program is somehow overshadowed by Duke’s and Kentucky’s recruiting trail dominance. His 2016 class, which features three five-star players and is ranked sixth nationally, has as much potential to be as dominant as either of those other two more nationally followed programs.
Continue to ignore that at your peril. Maintain your working theory that all high school recruiting goes through John Calipari and Mike Krzyzewski. Go ahead.
While many are doing that, Sean Miller is in Tucson, unbothered by the hyperbolic tropes given to Kentucky or the blind praise that is bestowed upon the Duke program by the sport’s ambassadors.
Miller has recruited at the top of the profession for five years, all while not having to face the scorn of the media or the nation when hyped to the point of absurdity Freshman-X averages “only” 15 points per game.
No matter. Not now.
There’s a new reality in college basketball. We can still acknowledge other programs’ recruiting dominance, because theirs is also real, but we can no longer ignore that the same should now be applied to what Sean Miller is doing in Arizona.
Good luck, Pac-12. You’re going to need it, and you’re going to need it year … after year … after year.