UA freshmen ignoring hype, getting to work
OCT 15, 2012 12:15p ET
Recruiting is nine — or maybe 99 — parts hard work and one part good fortune, and it takes time to cultivate new relationships in a new environment, even for a coach with the credentials of Miller. Three full recruiting seasons later, UA has reached a point that satisfies Miller's exacting standards.
Arizona's latest freshman class — guard Gabe York and big men Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski — is ranked in the top five in the NCAA by all the major recruiting services. Scout.com ranked the class third. So did CBSSports. CBS' Doug Gottlieb named Ashley, 6-foot-8, his national freshman of the year.
Ashley had not heard that the other day.
"I don't even know what to say," he said sheepishly.
That may be the best thing about the 2012 class. They seem to understand that it is not what you say that matters. Or what others say, either. For the first time, Miller and his staff had the necessary length of time to really get to know the recruits, and they them. It made for more discerning decision-making.
"No question, everyone that we recruit one day hopes to be a part of the NBA, but I think the path to getting there is a completely different thing," Miller said. "Being willing to put in the work, understanding the value of winning championships, and how that helps gets you to where you want to go. Those guys (freshmen) are really in a good place."
The 2011 class also was ranked in the top 10 by most experts, but only Nick Johnson and Angelo Chol were a fit. Sidiki Johnson was last seen hailing a cab outside Madison Square Garden after UA's trip to the preseason NIT last November, never to suit up again. Josiah Turner could not gather himself for the Pac-12 tournament last March and left the program soon after. Athletic ability is the starting point, not the end all.
"I love the freshman group," said senior Solomon Hill, as good a candidate as any for Pac-12 player of the year as he returns to his natural small forward position.
"They listen. When you tell them something, they are open to it. There is no attitude with those guys. There is no wondering about where are they or what are they doing. Those guys are always in the gym. Any time you come in the gym early or leave late, those guys are getting up extra shots, getting extra workouts. And I love it, because it reminds me when I was a freshman and trying to make my way, too. That's what you do. If you want to be taken serious, you have to get that extra work in."
Ashley has a game that reminds some of Richard Jefferson, the player who donated millions to build a practice gym/training facility just east of McKale Center. One service rated him the No. 2 power forward in the 2012 class after he averaged 15.3 points and 6.8 rebounds at Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nev., last season.
So he could expect to play 25-30 minutes a game, right? Hardly.
"I feel like minutes really isn't a huge part of the game. Whether I play 20 minutes or 10 minutes, 15, it really doesn't matter as long as I am productive in the minutes that I do play," Ashley said.
Ashley arrived at UA with 22 percent body fat and was at 10 last week, modeling mentor Hill, who has gone from 11 percent last year to 7 percent last week; he hopes to be at 5 percent by the season opener Nov. 11.
"Staying off that bag of chips and grabbing an apple," Hill said.
In the long term, Ashley may fit best in the three spot, but that belongs to Hill for the time being. Ashley, Tarczewski and Jerrett will join Chol to provide UA an inside presence it has lacked in Miller's tenure, although it has not been a hindrance. Miller won 69 games in his first three years, more than any UA coach (read: Lute Olson) or any current Pac-12 coach, and the Wildcats were an open jumper from the 2011 Final Four.
Tarczewski, a true back-to-the-basket center at 7-foot, 255 pounds, was ranked as the No. 3 center in the nation after averaging 20.7 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.7 blocked shots at St. Mark's School, a private school in the Boston area.
Jerrett, 6-10, averaged 22.3 points, 10 rebounds and 2.4 blocked shots at La Verne (Calif.) Lutheran High last season and was the Gatorade player of the year in California. One service rated him the No. 9 player in the nation.
York, 6-2, averaged 24.9 points, 2.7 assists and 2.3 steals for Orange (Calif,) Lutheran High. He was ranked as the nation's 11th-best shooting guard. He is playing at UA's deepest spot, though, with Mark Lyons, Nick Johnson, Jordin Mayes and Kevin Parrom in the backcourt.
"Every day in practice, you realize this isn't high school basketball anymore," Tarczewski said. "The team here ... it's like basically playing on an all-star team. It's definitely a different ball game. It pushes you real hard. You have to work hard every day."
It remains to be seen how the pieces will fit. Chol contributed in short bursts last season, and the first year always requires some readjustment.
Johnson, who also attended Findlay Prep, went through the normal ups and downs last year, when he averaged 8.9 points a game. His advice?
"Honor the process. Keep on working hard. If you go in a slump, work your way out of it. Stay confident, knowing that everything comes for a reason."
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