The post came across Instagram, with the Arizona Wildcats touting the accomplishments of their star-studded freshman class.
That’s right, the 1,321 points scored by the trio of Zeke Nnaji, Nico Mannion and Josh Green was the most by any three freshman teammates in the country. It’s a fun statistic, but also a hollow one.
After all, those 1,321 points did not lead to a Pac-12 title, nor did they contribute to any really big wins.
Nnaji, who was responsible for 515 of them, was the conference Freshman of the Year and a Pac-12 First Teamer, while Mannion, who tallied 447 points, landed on the Second Team. Both were also named to the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team, for whatever that’s worth.
Green accounted for 359 points, but didn’t land on any of the postseason honors lists. Still, he — like the other two — declared for the NBA Draft. That all three are turning pro is not a surprise, nor is it a decision you could really argue with.
Each will likely be picked somewhere in the first round, and the potential exists for all to have productive NBA careers. That’s precisely what Arizona fans should be rooting for, as it’s never a bad thing to have players repping the Red and Blue in the league.
But until that happens, all we know of the trio is what happened during its short stint in Tucson, which ultimately wasn’t much.
The Wildcats won 21 games. Oh, and the Wooden Legacy title.
Yes, they were robbed of a chance to win the Pac-12 Tournament and like many other teams never got an opportunity to make a deep run in March Madness. Arizona was trending for a mid-seed, and while they would have been dangerous they also would have been ripe for an early exit.
That’s not entirely on the freshman trio, who though highly thought of probably should not have had to shoulder as much of the load for the team. It was unfair (and unwise) to rely on first-year players to not only be good, but also consistent. Other than Mannion, Nnaji and Green, Arizona struggled to produce, and that undoubtedly cost them.
There were times each of the freshmen looked great — especially Nnaji — while there were games where they looked like freshmen.
Unfortunately as the season played out it became clear that short of a deep tournament run, the freshman trio was never going to have much to be remembered by.
So, how should they be remembered?
Nnaji is the only one who will be thought of having reached their potential, while Green will likely be the guy who was pretty solid all the way around. Opinions of Mannion are understandably mixed, though I’d say he was fine.
Each produced their share of highlights, and nary a bad thing has been said of them as far as being good teammates or listening to coaches.
It’s always nice when your best players are not troublemakers. It helps when they are good guys.
They were supposed to be more than that, though again, they didn’t get a chance to cement their on-court legacy with a special March. Given an underwhelming season prior to that, there is nothing left for them to do that could improve their legacy.
That’s not to say the story of their impact is done being written.
Their best hope really is that Arizona continues to improve from this season and gets back to an elite level. If it happens then the 2019 class will be seen as the one who set the stage for the rise.
Devonaire Doutrive made it OK to commit to Arizona, while Brandon Williams was the first real star to join Sean Miller in the post-FBI era.
But Mannion, Green and Nnaji were different. They had more than enough time to assess the situation and learn about both Miller and the program. That they felt good enough to go to Tucson was a sign that you know what, things might actually be OK.
The 2020 recruiting class has a couple of high-end prospects in Dalen Terry and Bennedict Mathurin. While neither come with the fanfare of a Mannion, Green or Nnaji, each has quite a bit to offer. Over the course of the last year the program also added traditional transfers Jordan Brown and James Akinjo, both of whom should bolster the roster.
Brown was a five-star recruit coming out of high school while Akinjo was a four-star, and each will suit up for the Wildcats next season. Both are intriguing players who, like the others, could have gone elsewhere.
For all the noise and concern, they clearly believe in Miller and the University of Arizona. We’ll likely never know how much the presence of last year’s freshman class had anything to do with them signing, but it’s safe to assume it had a role.
Good players want to play with other good players. Arizona had good players before and they will again.
Arizona’s 2019 recruiting class arrived with high expectations, and as three of the four players leave, it’s fair to say they did not meet them.
But when it comes to remembering Nico Mannion, Josh Green and Zeke Nnaji, their ultimate impact may not be visible on the court.
At least, not with them in the Arizona jerseys.