Sean Miller's recruiting efforts at Arizona are five-star
JUL 21, 2014 2:37p ET
When Arizona hired Sean Miller as its basketball coach in May 2009, one of the narratives -- shaped as a concern -- was whether he could recruit the West Coast.
It was a legit question. Miller grew up in Pittsburgh, played at Pitt, and spent his entire coaching career entrenched well east of the Mississippi River, including as head coach at Xavier in Cincinnati.
When he met to discuss the Arizona opening with then-school president Robert Shelton and athletic director Jim Livengood in Santa Fe, N.M., the culture shock was such that Miller had a hard time making sense of the stucco houses.
"A bit taken aback? Yeah, you could say that," Livengood said in an interview this spring. "If you live in the Midwest or on the East Coast, this part of the world is some place where you say, 'Wait a minute, are you sure we're still part of the continental United States?'"
It's clear now that Miller had adapted to his new world just fine. More than fine.
Unbound by geography, his recruiting in California is unmatched, and he can combine the energy of his coaching staff with the Arizona brand to reach all parts of the country while working off a list of national top 50 recruits.
The proof: Miller earlier this month received a commitment from Las Vegas wing Ray Smith, the 10th five-star recruit to commit to/sign with Arizona in the past five classes. Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com crunched some numbers and found Miller's recruiting takes a backseat only to Kentucky's John Calipari, who has received commitments from 16 five-star prospects in that span.
"There have definitely been times when I have been watching a game with another assistant on the West Coast, and he's looking at maybe not an elite prospect but a guy who other Pac-12 schools would want, and then Sean will walk in," said Josh Gershon, the West Coast recruiting analyst for Scout.com. "And the other assistant will be like, 'Oh, great.'
"You don't want to recruit against Arizona. Not to say that Arizona is going to get everyone, and not to say there aren't other great recruiters on the West Coast, but it's clear that if Arizona is in a recruiting battle and Sean Miller is going full force, it's going to be hard to beat."
Recruiting is about relationships -- you've heard that before -- which is why it took Miller and his staff a couple years to truly find their recruiting stride at Arizona. They didn't have the luxury of getting to know West Coast kids for multiple years and missed on red-flag character issues, such as those with five-star point guard Josiah Turner, who left after his freshman season.
"If you look at some of the early problems he had in recruiting, it was maybe because he didn't have the West Coast connections," Gershon said.
"If he would have had those connections, maybe he wouldn't have taken some of the kids he took early on. To his credit, he very quickly grew comfortable with the West Coast, and now he's a West Coast guy as much as anyone."
With plenty to sell and the family-friendly personality to be a closer, Miller has brought in the following five-star recruits:
Stanley Johnson, Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett, Nick Johnson and Turner. For the 2015 class, Miller has commitments from Smith and guard Justin Simon from Temecula, Calif.
And he's just getting started.
This should be a huge Arizona recruiting class, in numbers and quality. Miller figures to have six scholarships available after this season. Arizona loses two seniors -- point guard T.J. McConnell and backup big man Matt Korcheck -- and could lose four early to the draft (Stanley Johnson, Hollis-Jefferson, Tarczewski and Ashley).
Miller is looking at five-star guards Allonzo Trier and Isaiah Briscoe.
"I think Arizona is in a good position with both of them," Gershon said. "Ultimately, Sean Miller is going to have to make a decision -- which one do I really target? Or does he do the old Lute Olson approach -- first one to commit gets the spot."
Arizona's biggest potential fish is Ivan Rabb, a power forward from Oakland and the nation's third-rated player according to Scout. Rabb plays with the Oakland Soldiers, the travel-ball team that sent Nick Johnson, Turner, Ashley, Gordon and Stanley Johnson to the Wildcats.
Rabb told Gershon that he is planning to visit Arizona for the Red-Blue Game on Oct. 18. Rabb isn't likely to commit until the spring.
"Arizona will be fighting for him for a long time, like it was for Aaron Gordon," Gershon said. "Arizona looks like a top-five class, but if it gets Rabb, it will be hard to beat."
Other big-man targets are Chance Comanche from Los Angeles, and Las Vegas Bishop Gorman teammates Stephen Zimmerman and Chase Jeter. Yep, each is a five-star recruit.
Miller had Arizona one shot away from the Final Four in 2011 and 2014, and is working on his fifth consecutive top-five recruiting class. Perhaps, his best.
The program has Olson-glory-days momentum, and a $30 million first-phase renovation of McKale Center, further ensures that Miller has everything he needs to keep it going.
"It's not in Sean Miller's personality to stop working," Gershon said. "I can't imagine that there is one thing that is slowing down the direction he is going in."