Just a decade ago, the best young international basketball talents wouldn't consider college, and they would often go pro in Europe before entering the NBA Draft. These days, there has been a push for young basketball players to enter the United States just to immerse themselves in the competitiveness of high school and college hoops. Playing alongside known prospects, they're more easily judged.
The Arizona Wildcats have not shied away from adding international talents. Sean Miller's first recruiting class included Kyryl Nathyazhko, and while that didn't net a huge impact for Arizona itself, it did grow Natyazhko's game enough for him to have a pro career. He'll again play for the Ukrainian national team in the 2014 FIBA World Cup this summer.
Miller has again sought out an international big man by signing Dusan Ristic to the 2014 recruiting class. While Stanley Johnson is the prize of the class, Parker Jackson-Cartwright is the well-documented winner from SoCal, Craig Victor is the power forward project and Kadeem Allen is the JC stud, it's Ristic who might be the least-known. That means he could be the biggest surprise.
ESPN Insider's Fran Fraschilla listed Risitc as one of nine international prospects to know in a piece published a week ago.
Ristic arrived in the United States from Serbia in January, and after a brief stop at a high school in Kansas, fell into Arizona's lap soon after that. The 6-11 forward was one of the top prospects in Europe, and the MVP of the prestigious Nike Junior Invitational Tournament in February 2013. He would have been a highly sought-after high school big man had he played longer in the United States.
This season, Ristic will fight for playing time on a stacked Arizona front line, but Sean Miller should be able to utilize his low-post scoring, clever passing and running ability once Ristic gets comfortable in Tucson.
Arizona has put an emphasis on recruiting big men who can shoot. From Grant Jerrett to the development of Brandon Ashley, it's clearly something that Miller's teams love to have. Even Natyazhko could step out, though his confidence never matched his skill.
In a Q&A by the Arizona Republic's Doug Haller earlier this month, UA associate head coach Joe Pasternack offered what Ristic could bring to the table.
"We're looking for guys that can score in the post and defend that position. If they can shoot, that would make it even better. We have this kid from Serbia, Dusan Ristic, who's going to be a freshman. He can really shoot the 3. I think that's part of why we lost in the NCAA Tournament (to Wisconsin) because (Frank) Kaminsky could shoot from that position."
DraftExpress' profile of Ristic offers some serious concerns about Ristic's athleticism and toughness, but that's something Miller of all people could be capable of improving.
The Wildcats may have a lot of promise on the roster and within the 2014 class, but Ristic, the guy whose name is left out of the discussion, is already known internationally. Arizona is betting that they've found a diamond in the rough in what was a less-than-dramatic recruiting process of the big man.