You don’t have to look far to find the big man of the future for the Arizona Wildcats.
That’s Duke transfer Chase Jeter — the 6-foot-10 giant who will be wearing street clothes at the end of the Wildcats’ bench this season.
NCAA transfer rules prohibit the newcomer from suiting up in 2017-18, but make no mistake about it, Jeter is invaluable to the Arizona program.
With Dusan Ristic set to graduate after the season and Deandre Ayton surely a one-and-done, Jeter is in line to be Arizona’s starting center in 2018-19.
That is especially true now that Arizona’s future recruiting classes are in limbo due to the UA’s involvement in a recruiting bribery scandal.
Before that, Arizona was in position to land a top high school recruit like Bol Bol to man the center position.
Now it’s increasingly likely that the Wildcats will have to rely heavily on returning players like Jeter in 2018-19, instead of a mix of returners and highly-touted freshmen as usual.
Jeter, a former five-star recruit himself, was a McDonald’s All-American out of Las Vegas’ Bishop Gorman High School in 2015. Arizona was one of his finalists, but ultimately the big man chose to sign with Duke where he had an underwhelming two-year stint.
Jeter averaged 2.1 points and 10.9 minutes in 48 games with the Blue Devils, and missed most his sophomore season with a nagging back injury, looking unlike the player he was recruited to be.
Looking for a fresh start — and to be closer to home — Jeter landed with Arizona which surprisingly lost big man Chance Comanche to the NBA Draft.
“We didn’t do a good enough job (recruiting him) our first time around,” Sean Miller said of Jeter in May, “but we became very familiar with his character and his talent level. And I’m here to tell you, when you look at where he’ll be in his career, his talent physically and what he’s gone through, I think we’re getting an excellent player.”
Miller called the acquisition a “big, big coup.”
“As big as anything we were able to do this spring,” Miller said in May.
Miller said Jeter is now “100 percent healthy” and that the 2017-18 campaign will be a “year of development” for the center.
“And he knows that,” Miller said. “He’s already getting better.”
Miller stressed that Jeter, who Parker Jackson-Cartwright said has a “crazy work ethic,” is an integral part of Arizona’s notoriously competitive practice environment.
Jeter is matched up against Ristic, Ayton, Ira Lee, and Keanu Pinder on a regular basis — a scenario which benefits all parties involved.
“We treat him like he’s able to play. We don’t put him on the scout team,” Miller said of Jeter. “I feel like that develops guys in their sit-out year better. It keeps them more engaged and it makes your practices more competitive than if we just put him on the sideline or ask him to be the other team.”
Jeter had six points and two blocks in 12 minutes in Arizona’s Red-Blue Game last Friday, in what will be his lone appearance of the 2017-18 season.
Weirdly, the junior fouled out and didn’t record a single rebound, likely a surprise to Miller.
“He’s smart, plays both ends, is very deceptive defensively,” Miller characterized Jeter’s game. “He blocks shots, has the ability to offensive and defensive rebound and plays well with other very good players.”
Jeter’s best work at Duke was on the defensive side of the ball. As a sophomore, the long-armed Jeter led the Blue Devils in defensive box plus/minus (6.4) and posted a team-high block percentage (6.7).
Offensively, Jeter didn’t fare nearly as well, averaging just 2.6 points per game with one of the worst true-shooting percentages on the team (52.8) as a sophomore. He also struggled with his shot, sinking just 55 percent of his free throws.
“I think that his jump shot will continue to develop as will his game around the basket,” Miller said.
The center’s progression as a whole will be paramount for the future of Arizona basketball.
The Wildcats added Jeter hoping he could become the player he was projected to be. Now, with Ristic and Ayton likely gone after this season and recruits hard to come by, they are banking on it.
“Chase will be a vital cog in our future,” Miller affirmed. “He really will.”
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire