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What Omar Thielemans’ commitment means for Arizona

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An eighth scholarship player is in the books

Photo via Omar Thielemans on Twitter

Slowly but surely the Arizona Wildcats are filling out their 2018-19 roster.

They picked up a commitment from Omar Thielemans on Sunday, a mysterious wing out of Belgium.

Not much had been known about Thielemans prior to his commitment, but now 247Sports rates him as the No. 120 player in the 2018 class, good enough to be a four-star prospect.

“He’s a plus athlete for a wing with good size and pretty long arms,” wrote Josh Gerson of 247Sports. “While Thielemans’ physical makeup makes him really intriguing, his best asset may be his vision, as he’s a terrific passer for the position with a high level feel for the game. He’ll need to keep improving as a shooter, as many of his points come from driving or on putbacks.

Thielemans joins four-star guard Devonaire Doutrive in an Arizona recruiting class that now ranks 46th in the country, per 247Sports.

And here’s what Thielemans’ commitment means for the Wildcats:

More depth

Thielemans becomes the eighth scholarship player on board for the 2018-19 season, obviously increasing the number of players Sean Miller has at his disposal next season.

Thielemans also fills a position of need. His size — he is listed at 6-7, 200 pounds — and athleticism should allow him to play the 2,3, and 4.

While Arizona is already in pretty good shape at the 2 with Brandon Randolph, Dylan Smith, and Devonaire Doutrive, it is shakier at the 3 and 4, only returning Emmanuel Akot and Ira Lee.

A potential shot creator?

If Thielemans’ best asset really is his vision and passing ability, he could be a much-needed shot creator for the Wildcats.

Arizona’s leading returning scorer and assister is Dylan Smith, who averaged just 4.3 PPG and 1.1 APG, so there isn’t a proven playmaker on the roster.

If Thielemans can do so much as drive-and-dish or push the ball in transition, he would fill a need for the Wildcats, even if his shooting stroke is apparently a work in progress.

Perimeter versatility

It’s always important to have players who can guard multiple positions.

Arizona was sometimes too big for its own good this past season, which forced Deandre Ayton and/or Dusan Ristic to check smaller, quicker players on the perimeter. Buffalo took advantage of those mismatches in the NCAA Tournament, and we know how that ended.

Then Arizona had Parker Jackson-Cartwright as its lead guard, and his lack of size made him a one-dimensional defender. Neither Rawle Alkins nor Allonzo Trier were standouts on that end of the court, either.

So Arizona’s roster is shaping up to be more versatile in 2018-19.

Thielemans has the physical profile to be able to guard two or three positions, and really so does every player projected to be in the rotation besides maybe Chase Jeter, who should be in charge of patrolling the paint, and Alex Barcello, who might not have the combination of size and quickness to guard on the wing.

Arizona has a lot to prove offensively, but it is easy to imagine it being a much-improved defensive team next season.

And it will have to be — the Wildcats posted their worst defensive efficiency in the Sean Miller Era in 2017-18.

Arizona’s remaining needs are clearer

Now that Thielemans is in the fold, it’s pretty clear what Arizona’s remaining needs are — a point guard and at least one more big man.

Right now, Chase Jeter is the only player on the roster taller than 6-7 so there’s a serious lack of size.

Arizona also doesn’t have a proven frontcourt player. Jeter averaged just 2.1 PPG and 2.2 rebounds in 48 games at Duke, while Lee and Akot were light contributors as freshmen.

Not to mention Lee was extremely foul-prone, averaging 7.2 per 40 minutes, so he might not be able to play major minutes as a sophomore.

Ideally, the Wildcats add a frontcourt player with a jumpshot, like Pitt graduate transfer Ryan Luther which would allow them to use different looks offensively.

But Arizona’s No. 1 need right now is a lead guard, someone who can command the offense and create shots for himself or others. No one on the roster has proven to be able to do that.

Say what you want about the need for quality big men and versatile wings, but it’s difficult to have any type of sustained success without high-caliber guards.

And until Arizona lands one (or develops one), its ceiling will be limited.

Former commit Brandon Williams is obviously the big fish right now, but there are also graduate transfers like Samford’s Justin Coleman on the market.


Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire