Part one of two: "Getting to Know Alex Barcello"
On August 26, Alex Barcello made a decision that was four years in the making.
Even before his first collegiate basketball offer from Grand Canyon during his freshman year of high school, the Corona Del Sol (Tempe) guard has been a special person. Popular, but humble. A jock, but with excellent grades. The 6-foot-3 senior doesn’t just check the ‘athlete’ box; he checks all the boxes, similar to his on-the-court style.
This is why Sean Miller made the state’s top guard a main priority this summer.
"They (Arizona) started recruiting me hard this summer when I was playing on the Nike circuit (EYBL)," Barcello said. "They kept on me hard and made me a top priority." During those 16 games on the circuit, he averaged 19 points per game and shot 37 percent from deep.
All the hard work over the last three years paid off when, less than 24 hours into his official visit to Tucson, the 2014 Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year announced his commitment to Arizona. With it, he became the first person in the 2017 class.
"When I visited, I knew it was the right fit for me," explained Barcello. "It felt like home. Being around all the players and the coaching staff and being in the environment with all the students there, it felt right for me."
He added, "I’m glad to have being committed off my shoulder. Now I can focus on getting better as a player and helping my team win a state title."
The relationship between a point guard and his coach is paramount, and we all saw the results when T.J. McConnell and Sean Miller were synced up.
For the last two-plus years, Miller and Barcello have been forging a bond; fused by respect, motivation, and a desire to win.
After dropping 51 points in a game against Perry during his sophomore year, Miller finally pulled the trigger and offered the young scorer.
"Coach Miller offered me the next day," Barcello recounted. "Ever since then, they’ve recruited me. Miller told me when they offered, ‘We’ll be watching you and see how you improve’."
It’s fair to say Arizona liked what they’ve seen ever since.
However, it’s not just what they saw in him on the court but also off of it.
He’s a natural born leader. Everyone I’ve talked to has said it and that’s exactly what Miller is looking for in his future point guard.
"He recruited me to be his point guard for future and to be the leader of the team," Barcello said. "He’s expecting me to come in from day one and take that role. I need to do what I need to do this year to prepare for that when I get there."
Now, over two years after being offered by the state’s premier program and countless hours of communication between them, how would Barcello define his relationship with Arizona’s head coach?
"Miller and I have a really close relationship, so I know that with him saying that he wants me in that [point guard] role, it means a lot. It’s a lot that you need to work on to be in that role. But it’s an honor. Just knowing that being in that position…[you need to] have a close relationship with Coach Miller because being the point guard on the floor means that you’re leading the team and you’re the overall floor general and it’s an extension of him on the floor. So you need a close relationship with him and that’s what we’ve been talking about and recruiting me for."
Point Guard U
Being a former point guard and now head coach, Sean Miller is in a unique position. Not too many coaches at top tier basketball programs played the sport in college - and on color TV.
This ability to relate to players as well as offer them knowledge others can’t is a strength Miller is not afraid to wield. In some cases, he doesn’t even have to say anything. He’ll let the results speak for themselves.
In this case, it’s former Arizona guard T.J. McConnell.
Listed at 5-foot-9, 165 pounds, McConnell was a three-star recruit at Duquesne and the 50th best point guard in his 2010 class. Five years later, he was suiting up on the Philadelphia 76ers as a starter.
That progression doesn’t happen without Miller.
Now, in 2016, Barcello credits Miller’s past as a ‘huge’ and ‘big factor for me’.
"I know he’ll teach me and show me what it takes to become the player I want to be," Barcello added. "He knows my goal is the NBA so he’s going to help me develop my game to get there. Knowing that he has my back and he’ll do everything he can do to get me there."
Furthermore, when I asked him what it means to be next in line of a long tradition of top point guards in Tucson, he said, "It means a lot…the long line of point guards, I feel it’s a great honor. Arizona definitely has a history and definitely is a great basketball program."
The Arizona Legacy
As Arizona fans (and probably opponents also) can attest, McKale Center is one of the most dynamic venues in college sports.
While playing in front of a packed house against a rival is great, what makes Arizona fans unique is showing up for intrasquad scrimmages or games against Division-II opponents.
This display of raw emotion wasn’t lost on Barcello.
"I can’t wait to play in McKale," he said. "I love playing in those types of environments where everyone is all about basketball and they love it."
And while U of A has been on the doorstep of the Final Four in recent years, it’s been a long 15 years since they made it. Barcello has only one goal and the team is united behind it.
"The team, Coach Miller and I, we all see eye-to-eye, and that’s winning," explained Barcello. "We want to reach the Final Four and win a National Championship and that’s our goal, so we’re going to work as hard as we can to get there."
Style of Play
As for the type of player Alex Barcello will be in Tucson, think McConnell. Though, that’s just my personal assessment.
"I’m a very tough player and love playing tough on both ends of the floor," Barcello said of his game. "I like to pick up my man full court on defense."
What he cites as his strengths will be important on a team that could lose a handful of star players.
"I know how to run a team and lead a team and get guys the ball for the open shot and get them easy looks to score baskets," he continued. "I can also create for myself coming off ball screens. I’m really good reading off that. Most people don’t think I’m athletic so I kind of shocked a lot of people when I start jumping and throwing it down (laughs). I’m an overall tough player and I love the game. People who love the game will enjoy watching me play."
Arizona’s motto under Sean Miller is Past. Present. Future.
Some may think this is just a slogan, but Alex Barcello’s recruitment turned this into a reality.
When I asked him about the current players, he responded, "I loved all of them. I talked a lot with Allonzo (Trier), Kobi (Simmons), Rawle (Alkins), and Dusan (Ristic). Those were the guys I really talked to. Plus Ray Smith. The whole team loved me and I loved them back. I feel we have a real special bond."
"We were all dancing after they heard I committed. We were having some fun with it."
That, right there, is both the present and the future.
And for the past? He turned to Stanley Johnson and Aaron Gordon, a couple of former Oakland Soldiers (his AAU club team) for some advice, and we can assume they had a few good things to say about the program.
For Miller, this is what I imagine he thought of when coining that phrase. He wants former players to lead by example, while also creating an atmosphere in the present that attracts the nation’s best for the future.
With Barcello on board, it appears Arizona scored a winner yet again. And according to Alex himself, he’s not sitting on the sidelines for this one.
"I am going to recruit. I know a couple of guys that I’m friends with who are being recruited (by Arizona) and I think it’d be nice to get a couple more pieces for this class. I’ll do what it takes to recruit them."
That, Wildcat nation, is a leader who will stop at nothing to win a National Championship.
You can follow Alec on Twitter for the latest in Arizona Basketball Recruiting: @UofAlec