TUCSON, Ariz. – Arizona basketball coach Sean Miller opened his offseason media briefing Friday by telling everyone the obvious: While this should be a quiet time for the Wildcats, it’s been anything but.
There seemingly has been more movement of late than on an Arizona fastbreak. Even more took place Friday when Miller announced that former UA star Damon Stoudamire was named an assistant coach and that Kansas transfer Zach Peters had officially become part of Arizona’s program by signing his National Letter of Intent.
Those are just the two most recent things that have happened to Arizona since it was eliminated by Ohio State in the Sweet 16 nearly two months ago. Sandwiched between that loss and Stoudamire officially sitting next to Miller for a press conference to announce his return after nearly 20 years, there were two player defections (Grant Jerrett leaving for the NBA and Angelo Chol transferring to San Diego State), a player arrival (Peters) and, oh yeah, a Pac-12 investigation into officiating as it affected Arizona.
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Yes, it’s been a busy offseason — and the spring semester just ended.
But Miller said he has “his arms around our future.”
Part of that future is Peters, a 6-foot-10 post player who left Kansas after sitting out last year with concussion issues. Miller admitted that he didn’t know who Peters was two months ago, but when Jerrett and Chol left, he needed some depth, and Peters, looking for a new home, could fill the void.
“We’re very fortunate — timing sometimes is everything, and in this case it was,” Miller said. He added that the Wildcats picked up “a quality player for what we need.”
Miller said UA has looked into Peter’s penchant for concussions – as his family has – and is comfortable in moving forward, as there’s no reason to believe Peter won’t have a successful career.
It’s presumed Peters will petition to play next year — Division I transfers typically have to sit out one season — but it’s for the NCAA to decide whether he’ll be eligible.
“I certainly think he has a case,” Miller said.
Either way, Peters will eventually help the frontcourt depth that was lost with the departures of Jerrett and Chol.
Jerrett, meanwhile, was invited recently to Chicago for the ongoing pre-draft camp. He left Arizona after a less-than-impressive freshman season, but there is little doubt that he has what the NBA craves: potential. Whether that will be enough to land him a roster spot will be determined in the coming months.
Miller said he a little surprised by the departure, “but that’s all part of it when you recruit a very talented player.
“In Grant’s perspective, he felt he was ready to make that climb to be an NBA player. I have no doubt he has the talent to do it. … My goal now is to help him to become the highest pick that he possibly can become.”
Chol left Arizona for a completely different reason – he wanted to play more. He won’t do that next season at San Diego State since he’ll have to sit out due to the NCAA’s transfer rules, but Chol felt there wasn’t enough room for him at Arizona given the addition of forward recruits Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
Unlike Jerrett’s decision, Miller said Chol’s wasn’t too much of a surprise.
“I would like to keep all of our guys here for four years,” Miller said. “That’s the goal when we recruit them — to keep them with us as long as we can unless they’re a first-round (NBA) pick.
“But Angelo, in the first two years he didn’t play a whole lot, and as he looked forward to the future, he still saw himself in a crowd. He’s going to a program where maybe he has an opportunity to start and play the whole game.”
That’s something Stoudamire did regularly after arriving on UA’s campus in 1991, eventually becoming an All-American and enjoying a lengthy NBA career. Miller said the addition of Stoudamire — who spent the past two years as an assistant at Memphis following two year’s on the staff of the NBA’s Grizzlies — will help Arizona get to the next level.
Miller also made it clear that Stoudamire wasn’t hired because of his past as a player but because of his future. Stoudamire has “been there and done it,” Miller said, adding that he’s “getting one heck of a coach” for his bench.
“Some of the great players in the game weren’t great coaches, and some of the great coaches in the game weren’t great players,” Miller said. “Coach (Lute) Olson described Damon to me like this: ‘He has an incredible burning desire and love for the game of basketball.’ … He’s absolutely the answer as a coach.”
And finally, Miller said he couldn’t speak to the specifics of the ongoing investigation by an independent firm into former Pac-12 director of officials Ed Rush’s actions at the Pac-12 tournament.
Rush offered inducements to officials to be tougher on conference coaches when it comes to sideline demeanor, specifically naming Miller as a target, but said he was joking when he did so. Rush eventually resigned, and the conference is looking for a replacement. Results of the independent investigation should be announced next month.
Miller said he couldn’t comment on the situation but was thankful to UA president Dr. Ann Hart and athletic director Greg Byrne for their support.
“Not every place would have the incredible support that I’ve been fortunate to have,” Miller said. “That’s been helpful and something I’ve had. It’s not lost on me, and it’s probably the most meaningful thing that’s happened to me since I’ve been the coach at Arizona.”