Two weeks ago, Sean Miller wasn’t exactly sure what the Arizona Wildcats’ roster would look like at the start of the 2017-18 season.
With two roster spots to fill, Arizona was awaiting decisions from high school recruits Brian Bowen and Trevon Duval, transfers Cameron Johnson and Chase Jeter, and returning players Chance Comanche and Rawle Alkins, who were considering keeping their names in the NBA Draft.
“If you would have asked me two weeks ago how it would have ended, I could have given you three or four different versions of it,” Miller said. “We didn’t know. We just tried to work till the end and do the best we could."
The end result was favorable, to say the least. Arizona landed Jeter, and Alkins chose to return to school.
Then a day after Alkins’ decision, Emmanuel Akot, originally a 2018 commit, reclassified to 2017, quickly putting the Wildcats at the 13-scholarship limit.
“Today represented the end for us,” Miller said Monday, signaling that Akot is the final addition to the 2017-18 roster.
A rather stunning end. Akot’s decision to reclassify didn’t materialize until “very, very recently.”
“Emmanuel is probably the one that surprised everybody,” Miller said.
“Every recruiting situation is different. In his case, he was more about getting it right and less about the drama and the process. I think, for him, being from Canada he started his clock a little bit earlier and started to think more and more as the year went on about potentially reclassifying and going to [college] a year earlier.”
Arizona did not try to sway him one way or another.
“We allowed his family to make his decision,” Miller said. “We didn’t try to speed him up or slow him down. And you don’t know that information (his ability to reclassify) until late in the game. That’s not something you know in January or February. He has to be first be a qualifier and be able to speed up his academics. He was able to do that ... and as long he was able to qualify, obviously were going to take a commitment from him above anybody else because he’s someone who has already been part of what we’re doing."
Akot is on par with the rest of Arizona’s 2017 recruiting class from an academic standpoint, but he’s rawer from a basketball standpoint, considering he turned 18 in March.
The 6-foot-7 forward is listed at 190 pounds and Miller said Akot will “gain a lot” from Arizona’s strength and conditioning program.
Still, Miller said he “certainly believes in” Akot, who can play multiple positions — even point guard.
“I think anytime you replace your senior year of high school with coming into a college program like ours, certainly from a development perspective, it’s going to be sped up astronomically,” Miller said.
“He has a lot of talent. I think versatility strikes with him as a player. He’s not relegated to just one position. He can play a lot of different positions. He’s an adept passer, As a matter of fact, he’s one of the best passers his size that I have seen. That’s an exciting quality and defensively, the sky is the limit.”
Arizona is returning five rotation players from a season ago, plus UNC-Asheville transfer guard Dylan Smith and a highly-ranked five-man recruiting class.
Getting ample playing time as a freshman could be a challenge for Akot, but that didn’t deter him from reclassifying.
“I think he’s somebody that’s not afraid of competition,” Miller said. “He wants to come in here and compete and be a part of something that’s special.
“A lot of times that’s missed in all of this. If you surround yourself with a lot of great teammates and a high achievement type of program where you’re expected to win, and there’s a lot of players that have the same goals and dreams that you have, you have a tendency to get to the place that you want to get to.”
Miller used Luke Walton and Richard Jefferson as an example.
While being recruited by Lute Olson, the former Wildcats visited Arizona together in what was believed to be an “either/or” situation. There were two recruits on campus, but there was only one scholarship on hand.
“By the way, I would love to see a coach try that these days and see how that one would work,” Miller joked, before getting to his point.
“On the visit [Walton and Jefferson] decided to look at each other and say ‘we’re both versatile, how about if we walk in (to Olson’s office) and say ‘will you take both of us?’”
“And how did that work for both of them?”
A look at the Wildcats’ 13 scholarship players
- Parker Jackson-Cartwright
- Dusan Ristic
- Allonzo Trier
- Keanu Pinder
- Rawle Alkins
- Dylan Smith
- Chase Jeter (not eligible until 2018-19)
- DeAndre Ayton
- Ira Lee
- Brandon Randolph
- Alex Barcello
- Emmanuel Akot
- Talbott Denny (received a sixth year of eligibility, per Miller)
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