Miller brings in stellar first class
Within months of taking over the Arizona men's basketball program, head coach Sean Miller put together a recruiting class most schools could only dream of.
Five freshmen were signed by early July, filling the Wildcats' roster that had been decimated by transfers and unsteady recruiting after the basketball team went through two interim head coaches in two seasons.
""It's about building a program that can return to dominance and do so many things that we've watched Arizona do for not five years but 25 years,"" Miller said over the summer.
""My philosophy in doing that is to think longer and bigger than just one season.""
The Wildcats' 2009 class includes guard Lamont ‘Momo' Jones, wings Kevin Parrom and Solomon Hill, power forward Derrick Williams and center Kyryl Natyazhko. The 2009 class is not only large in number, but was ranked by Rivals.com as the 13th best class in Division I hoops.
""Watching the players in pick-up and all that, it looks like he nailed all five of them,"" said Rivals.com recruiting expert Josh Gershon. ""To be able to bring in five guys that are going to make some kind of impact in your program — in that little amount of time — is unreal. And really, that class would be a really good class any year, but to sign it in a month or two is just unbelievable.""
But with such a large crop of freshmen, Arizona will be limited in number of players and selectivity in the next few recruiting classes. Miller said he will only take players talented enough to play at Arizona as opposed to taking players based on need alone.
""I definitely think the coaches have to be pretty selective and I think 2010 will be a three-man class, maybe with the third being in the spring signing period,"" Gershon said, adding that the ""2011 (class) will probably depend on what happens in 2010.""
Finding a big man
On a roster depleted of big men, Williams and Natyazhko's development will be key for Arizona to have an inside presence.
Gershon said Williams is already ""one of the strongest players on the team,"" while Natyazhko has improved dramatically throughout fall pick-up games.
""The thing that sets him apart that I'm very excited about is he's a big guy who's also very skilled,"" Miller said during a summer press conference. ""He's not someone who can't catch, can't make a free throw. I think you'll find him being able to really put the ball on the floor and pass and shoot.""
And Natyazhko is the biggest question mark. The center out of the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., by way of Ukraine will have a shot at the starting center position come the Nov. 1, Red-Blue game.
""He's the guy that they're really going to need,"" Gershon said. ""If he can be a dependable big man for them right away then that makes the team that much bigger. I imagine he'll play a lot of that this season — they don't have anyone proven at the center position.""
Looking ahead at top targets
The Wildcats will need a true point guard following senior Nic Wise's departure this year.
McCallum, a 2010 prospect out of Detroit, Mich., is Arizona's main target, according to Gershon. UCLA and Arizona are the teams to beat, but McCallum's father, University of Detroit head coach Ray McCallum Sr., is also attempting to edge his son toward his program.
""He's taking an official to UCLA this weekend and he'll officially visit Arizona for the Red/Blue game (on Nov. 1),"" Gershon said. ""I'd say that 80 percent of the (Arizona) class being a success depends on either getting him or another point guard, but it's going to be tough to get another point guard as good as he is.""
Once again, adding to the still-small big man rotation will be Miller's priority.
Payne, a 6-foot-10, 215-pound power forward is a five-star prospect from Ohio, a jewel of a recruit for Arizona to bolster its interior.
""He's pretty familiar with the Arizona coaching staff, and he's a guy that … nationally, people didn't expect (Arizona) to be a factor in this (recruitment) but really, right now UofA has a good of a chance as anyone,"" Gershon said. ""Getting a player like that is huge and obviously (Arizona) hasn't brought in a lot of five-star big men in the past.""
Miller loves versatility in his players. That's evidenced by the Natyazhko and Williams signings, but Miller is looking to add one more.
Odom, at 6-foot-8, 195 pounds, is another of the multi-talented players that Miller is recruiting.
""Arizona probably has as good of a chance as anyone (to land Odom),"" Gershon said. ""I would imagine Odom makes a decision pretty soon after his visit to Boston College this weekend. It'd be really good to get another face-up four in there. You've got Derrick Williams and Jamelle Horne for the next few years, but to get a third … the team would have a lot of depth.""