There were no cameras around to confirm, but it wouldn’t have been surprising had Sean Miller headed toward his press conference on Tuesday with a little extra pep in his step. Maybe a strut, even.
Wouldn’t you after landing the top recruiting class in the nation, only a few months removed from essentially being left for dead by many college basketball experts?
“The moments you have in sports, I would say this is No. 1 on my list,” Miller said of the recruiting work he and his staff have put in, both for the 2019 recruiting class as well as the 2018 version that had to be pieced together at the last minute in the spring.
“Going back to April, late March, the coaching staff we have here at Arizona in essence brought 11 players to our program in a seven-month window. That’s really hard to do, especially in climbing the mountain of adversity that we’ve sort of been responsible for climbing.”
That ‘mountain of adversity’ Miller eluded to was the myriad of FBI and NCAA investigations into college basketball, many of which have involved the Arizona Wildcats. The arrest and indictment of assistant coach Book Richardson in September 2017, followed by a still-unsubstantiated ESPN report about wiretapped conversations in which Miller is alleged to offer money to secure Deandre Ayton’s services, resulted in the Wildcats having zero signees for 2018 when last season ended.
Somehow, Miller and his staff managed to sign three high school players and add graduate transfers Justin Coleman and Ryan Luther. Then in the summer they landed Cornell forward Stone Gettings, who is set to join the team in December but won’t play until next season.
Last week Arizona completed a whirlwind recruiting cycle by signing a quartet of prep prospects: 5-star guard Nico Mannion, 5-star forward Josh Green, 4-star guard Terry Armstrong and 3-star center Christian Koloko. A fifth recruit, 4-star forward Zeke Nnaji, committed after the early signing period ended, pushing the Wildcats’ 2019 class to No. 1 in the 247Sports composite rankings.
“I’m certainly elated to be able to welcome the class that we have,” Miller said. “Today is very, very gratifying because only a few of us know how hard the work was.”
Miller credited his entire staff for the strong recruiting job but singled out Mark Phelps, his longest-tenured assistant.
“He’s been the one assistant coach that’s been with me through thick and thin,” Miller said. “He certainly was a big part of the 2019 class coming together.”
Here’s what Miller had to say about the four prospects who have signed national letters of intent (per NCAA rules, Arizona can’t publicly comment about Nnaji until he’s signed):
Background info: Mannion is a 6-foot-3 point guard who plays at Pinnacle High School in Phoenix. He is ranked as the No. 14 player in the 2019 recruiting class as well as the No. 1 point guard and top prospect from Arizona.
Miller’s take: “Nico is somebody that walks in the door with great size and athleticism and, I think, a complete and total understanding of how to play the position. I wouldn’t consider him just a pass-first point guard, I would call him an all-everything point guard. He can score in transition but he also knows how to get others involved. I give Nico a lot of credit because he was the first to jump on board. True to being a great point guard, you lead from the front both on offense and defense, but oftentimes you lead off the court as well. He paved the way for others to join him. Josh Green and him are great friends because they play on the summer circuit together.”
Background info: Green is a 6-foot-6 wing who is from Australia but plays prep basketball at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. He is ranked as the No. 11 overall player in the 2019 class, is considered the third-best small forward and the No. 3 prospect from Florida.
Miller’s take: “Josh is somebody that we started recruiting many years ago. Josh can play, really, either wing spot. I think his shot is really developing, that’s probably the thing that’s happened the most for him the last four or five months even though he had shoulder surgery. Just watching him shoot the ball he’s really on a great track. I say that because everything else is really in place. He has a 6-foot-11 wingspan. He’s physically strong right now, he has a chance to be an excellent defensive player.”
Background info: Armstrong is a 6-foot-6 guard who is originally from Michigan but plays at Bella Vista Prep in Scottsdale, Ariz. He is ranked No. 58 overall in the 2019 class, is considered the sixth-best shooting guard and the No. 2 prospect from Arizona.
Miller’s take: “Terry brings a kind of toughness to our program that all of us would love to have as coaches. He also has great size for a wing and guard. It’s not that he has one thing that he does well, it’s the versatility I think that jumps off the page when you watch him. He’s in a program right now that’s playing against the best competition in America at the high school level. I’m anxious for him to have a great senior year. I think he’ll be able to come in and affect our program right away.”
Background info: Koloko is a 7-foot center who was born in Cameroon and currently plays for Sierra Canyon High School in Chatsworth, Calif. He is ranked No. 166 overall in the 2019 class, is considered the nation’s 31st-best center and the No. 14 prospect from California.
Miller’s take: “Last year he played high school basketball with Devonaire Doutrive. We saw Christian play when we watched Devonaire in high school, and we made him a priority from day one. He’s got great hands. He started playing basketball in middle school. He’s an international student that comes from a great family. I think the best is yet to come for him. His ability to catch the ball, his work ethic, his unselfish manner gives you somebody that can play the center position in the way the game is played today. He’s the furthest thing from just a plodder or a seven-foot project. His mobility on offense and defensive might be his greatest gift.”