When was the last time you felt good about Arizona basketball?
Not in a “that was a nice win and winning is fun” kind of good, but in a “you know what, this program might be on the right track” kind of good.
A few months? A year? Maybe it’s been two or three years, dating back to when Deandre Ayton committed to the program.
Those good feelings were short-lived as the scandal that has since enveloped much of the program hit before Ayton, and what was thought to be a Final Four-caliber team, ever took the court.
Everyone is different, but no matter when it was you last felt good about the Wildcats it’s difficult to imagine one not being high on them right now.
Because as far as May goes, this past week was about as good as Arizona could have asked for.
The big news during the week was that the Wildcats secured the services of a pair of recruits, brothers Azuolas and Tautvilas Tubelis.
It appears Azuolas is good enough to start and perhaps be one of Arizona’s best players at a position where more help was needed. He and his brother complete the 2020 recruiting class, which is made up of seven players and sits at No. 5 in the latest 247Sports rankings.
The septet of freshmen join a roster that, combined with returning players and eligible transfers, now looks mighty intriguing heading into the next season.
No one would have predicted that back in April when Arizona was missing out on high-profile targets like Ziaire Williams and Kerwin Walton.
Simply adding the Tubelis Bros. (or Tubelii, maybe?) to a rapidly-improving roster on its own would have made for a nice week, but then Arizona was able to end its hiring freeze and make official the addition of program legend Jason Terry as an assistant coach.
The good times, they kept on rolling.
Of course the Terry news was reported a few weeks back so it wasn’t exactly a surprise. Still, the JET officially landing in Tucson is a welcome sight as he seems to be a perfect choice to fill out Sean Miller’s staff.
Try to find a Wildcat fan who is upset about Terry’s return. It’s going to be difficult.
None of this is to say the Wildcats are now positioned to get back to the Final Four for the first time since 2001 or that they are destined to win the Pac-12 or anything like that.
In terms of talent, Arizona has on paper appeared to have more in recent seasons, and Terry’s most valuable early contribution will likely be seen on the recruiting trail. Both the roster and assistant could surprise and be ready to shine sooner than many think, but the expectation is they’ll all need time to adjust and that’s perfectly fine.
None of that matters right now, though. You cannot win any games this time of year, but you can revive a fan base that has needed something to get excited about.
Excitement itself does not win any games, though support absolutely helps. Pretty much every player to call the McKale Center home raves about the fan support, and Miller himself often cites the fans when talking about the school.
It’s not just fluff, either. Arizona led the Pac-12 in attendance last season in drawing a total of 232,114 fans over 17 home games. The next closest total belonged to rival ASU (likely helped by the Wildcats coming to town for a game we need not talk about), yet the Sun Devils trailed by more than 80,000.
That happened despite an inconsistent and discouraging season from the Cats, a campaign that followed one of the worst in recent history. Support is not guaranteed, though, and certainly should not be taken for granted.
Given all that has happened with the program it would be understandable if some are down on their future. The fear is that those fans skip being angry and in turn become apathetic.
Apathy spells doom for a college program, and we need look no further than Arizona football for an example. Unfortunately once you reach that level it is difficult to climb out. Not impossible, just difficult.
Fortunately the basketball program is not there, at least not yet. Was it on the precipice? Maybe, but it looks like we’ll never truly know.
Although Arizona’s recruiting has been surprisingly solid, it was not until this week that the perception needle really moved. The other day a friend of mine who I hadn’t spoken to in a bit messaged me with, simply, “Finally some good news with UofA sports.”