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Arizona Wildcats mailbag: On women’s basketball recruiting, Azuolas Tubelis’ upside, and more

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 28 Women’s Stanford at Arizona Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s Monday, which means it’s time for another Arizona Wildcats mailbag. Special thanks to the folks who submitted questions.

To participate in the future, follow us on Twitter at @RKelapire and @AZDesertSwarm.

@Weslo1875: I know there’s not too much info out there on this, but just in case, any updates on WBB recruiting? You think we can expect a pretty good 2021 class?

Adia Barnes likes to talk about how Arizona is recruiting against powerhouses like UConn, Baylor and Louisville nowadays, so you have to think they will sign some high-end recruits as long as they can win one or two of those recruiting battles. That is easier said that done.

So far, Arizona’s lone commit is Madison Conner, a sharpshooting two-guard from Perry High School in Chandler, Arizona. ESPN ranks her as the No. 72 player in the country. The Wildcats were finalists for highly-touted point guards Jada Walker and Aziaha James, but they recently committed elsewhere.

Jasmine Shavers, ESPN’s No. 60 recruit, is a name to watch. The four-star guard listed Arizona in her final 8.

Arizona will need to replace Aari McDonald, Sam Thomas and Trinity Baptiste, so you can probably expect them to add three, four or maybe five players (including transfers) since other players are bound to leave the program. That’s just how things go these days.

Either way, the 2021-22 squad should be very experienced, its starting lineup looking something like this:

  • G: Helena Pueyo (Jr.)
  • G: Shaina Pellington (Rs. Sr.)
  • G: Bendu Yeaney (Rs. Jr. or Sr.)
  • F: Cate Reese (Sr.)
  • C: Semaj Smith (Sr.) (maybe Lauren Ware?)

@beardown_UofA_: For men’s basketball, are we ranked yet? And what about the end of the year? Do you think we will be ranked?

There are still too many unknowns for Arizona to be a preseason top-25 team. Will James Akinjo have to sit out half the season? How good will all those international recruits actually be? Will Jordan Brown play like a McDonald’s All-American? Will any of the returners take a big step forward? Will Brandon Williams be part of the team?

To answer your last question, it’s very possible that Arizona will be ranked by the end of the season. But because they don’t have any stud five-star recruits coming in, this will be a prove-it year. I personally think they will be better than they were in 2019-20. Having multiple guards who can handle the ball will make a big difference.

@gmfde83: Is (Azuolas) Tubelis the “low post” Lauri Markkanen in terms of quality? We know he cannot shoot like Lauri, but is he as Lauri as an overall basketball player?

So I guess the question here is, “Will Azuolas Tubelis average 15.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game like Lauri Markkanen?”

Tubelis is ranked 56th in his class and Markkanen was 36th, so from that aspect, no, Tubelis is not as good as the Finnisher. I also think Markkanen had skills—particularly his shooting—that you knew were going to translate to the next level. It’s the same reason he was effective in his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls.

Tubelis is mostly an interior scorer, so he will have to adjust to the physicality of the game, Arizona’s slow-it-down style, and the restrictive officiating. He has already played against grown men in the NKL, so I expect him to make a pretty seamless transition. 15 and 7 good, though? That’s a lot to ask.

@GenChaos520: What happens with Sean Miller’s contract in the next 12 months?

The 2020-21 season is the penultimate year of Miller’s contract, which normally could be seen as a make-or-break year. It’s unusual to coach in the final year of a contract—in this case the 2021-22 season. It puts the program in a tough spot. How can you pitch recruits on the future of the program if your coach is on an expiring contract?

But the coronavirus crisis has changed the financial landscape of college sports, so who knows. Arizona might not be in a position to sign Miller to a long-term extension if the 2020-21 season goes well or buy him out if it goes bad. One thing I could see happening is the 2020-21 season going pretty well and Miller gets a year tacked onto his contract.

It’s a fascinating situation, for sure.

@AndyBlaho: What’s your expectation for the renovation of the west side of Arizona Stadium? And what are some things you would add/change?

My expectation is that project will take longer to complete than the two-year prediction Dave Heeke made last September. The project, and all UA athletic projects for that matter, are currently on hold because of the coronavirus crisis.

I’ve never actually sat in the west side of Arizona Stadium, so I couldn’t really tell you what the most pressing issues are besides the things I’ve heard—like the seats being too narrow and the amenities (restrooms, concession stands, etc.) being scarce and outdated.

I’m a minimalist, so fix those things, throw in reliable WiFi and I’d be satisfied. The real problem is the product on the field. Improve that and fans will show up.