clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What K.J. Simpson’s commitment means for Arizona basketball

The Arizona Wildcats landed their first 2021 commitment on Saturday in four-star guard K.J. Simpson.

Our news story can be found here, and here is some more analysis of his decision.

The West Coast Elite connection continues

The WCEUA acronym actually stands for West Coast Elite Under Armour, but it might as well stand for West Coast Elite University of Arizona at this point.

Simpson comes from the same travel program that produced Nico Mannion, Josh Green, Ira Lee, Jemarl Baker Jr., Stone Gettings, Chance Comanche, and Deandre Ayton.

And Arizona’s WCE ties certainly made a difference in Simpson’s recruitment.

“I know Ira Lee... but I’m familiar with Nico Mannion and Josh Green through West Coast Elite,” Simpson told in July. “[Arizona is] a really good program with a great coaching staff as well.”

Returning to their roots

It’s way too early to know what Arizona’s class will look like when all is said and done, but Simpson’s commitment means it has already matched the number of domestic recruits it landed in 2020.

That Arizona landed Simpson out of California should be no surprise either. Prospects are more likely to stay local these days due to COVID-19 recruiting restrictions that have prohibited on-campus official visits since March.

That means past relationships and school proximity are more important than ever, unless recruits are willing to move across the country to play for a school they’ve never visited and a coaching staff they’ve never met in person.

If you look at the other 2021 prospects who have Arizona on their list of finalists, all of them hail from the West Coast.

The Pacific Northwest in particular has become a big recruiting focus now that Jason Terry is on staff.

A multi-year approach

Since 2009, the Wildcats have only signed four non-top-100 players who played high school basketball in the United States—Jordin Mayes, Dusan Ristic, Christian Koloko and Tibet Gorener. Simpson will become the fifth if he is still pledged to the Wildcats on signing day.

What do all of them (except Gorener) have in common? They all played multiple seasons at Arizona.

As I outlined earlier in the offseason, the Wildcats have had ridiculous roster turnover over the past three seasons, in part because they have lost so many players to the NBA Draft.

Yet, despite landing so many elite talents, Arizona has only won two NCAA Tournament games since 2015. Continuity matters, too.

Simpson’s commitment further illustrates how Arizona is shifting away from those sure-fire one-and-done recruits. Dalen Terry was the prize of the 2020 class and he was Arizona’s lowest-ranked top recruit since 2010.

Another one of Arizona’s top 2021 targets—Oregon native Ben Gregg—is the No. 94 recruit in 247Sports’ rankings and plans to be in school for “three to four” years.

Rankings are as unreliable as ever

All that being said, recruiting rankings should be taken with a grain of salt this year. COVID-19 cancelled parts of the 2019-20 high school season and completely upended the 2020 summer evaluation period.

That means players like Simpson missed an opportunity to improve their ranking. It also means there are probably a lot of hidden gems out there.

Where would Simpson rank if he had gotten to play this summer? Ryan Silver, the founder of West Coast Elite, has an opinion on that.

“Would have dominated Under Armour Association and been a top-25 guy with McDonald’s (All-American) consideration,” he tweeted in July. “K.J. Simpson ‘The Lion’ has unlimited potential.”

A vintage Sean Miller player?

Simpson once scored 41 points in a state semifinal game, but 247Sports scouting report says he has to improve his jumper and handle.

It also has few tidbits that UA fans should love to see:

  • “Competitive kid who plays hard on both ends.”
  • “Versatile defender who can guard both one and two at next level.”
  • “Athletic combo guard with okay size but good length and athleticism.”

Miller’s best teams at Arizona were tough and prided themselves on defense, and it seems like Simpson fits that mold.