The new coach arrived on a wave of optimism, yet some doubt remained.
Could he lead the Arizona Wildcats, one of the sport’s powers that had fallen on tough times, back to the top? He has never proven capable of doing so and there were questions about whether or not he could recruit at a high level now that he was doing so for one of the blue bloods.
As it turned out, much of the worry about how Sean Miller would fare was unfounded. Aided by the implosion of USC’s recruiting class in his first season in Tucson, the former Xavier coach needed all of two seasons to show he could land recruits on the west coast while getting the Cats to the top of the conference and deep into the NCAA Tournament.
Now it’s Tommy Lloyd’s turn.
The coach, who has been on the job for a little more than a month, arrived with plenty of acclaim. He’s a Hall of Fame assistant, after all, and had been Mark Few’s right-hand man for two decades.
While he can’t win any games for a while, the coach got off to a fast start with recruiting when he snagged a commitment from Dylan Anderson, a four-star big in the class of ‘22.
That was followed by addition of former Gonzaga player Oumar Ballo along with the re-commitments, or non-departures, of key returners such as Kerr Kriisa, Benn Mathurin and Dalen Terry.
The team added transfer Pelle Larsson from Utah, a move that is likely to be underrated by the time the games begin, along with incoming freshman Adama Bal. At that point the roster and future was looking pretty good, even with the departures of guys like James Akinjo, Jordan Brown, Terrell Brown, Ira Lee, Jemarl Baker Jr. and Tibet Görener.
But then TyTy Washington committed to Kentucky, and not long after Arthur Kaluma, another Arizona target, chose Creighton.
And with that, the good times came to a screeching halt.
Suddenly there were questions about whether or not Lloyd could recruit at a level befitting Arizona and whether or not this roster, which looked very promising in April, is going to be one that disappoints later this year.
Isn’t the offseason fun?
The truth is in the case of Washington, Lloyd and Arizona shouldn’t beat out John Calipari and Kentucky. Doing so would have represented a monstrous victory, but falling short is no stain on Arizona or its coach.
As for Kaluma, well, that one is tougher to explain though once again, it doesn’t mean much in terms of Lloyd’s ability to bring in talent.
You could argue Lloyd, who has a reputation as an elite recruiter, has already shown those skills with the way he kept the roster intact. Other than Akinjo, who was never coming back once Miller was fired, and Brown, who is good, is not the kind of player who would make or break a season.
Therefore the team everyone was so excited to have next season is, by and large, going to be there.
The additions we know about are solid, and the rest of the roster should be easily filled out with talent, especially with the number of players still in — or yet to even enter — the transfer portal.
In other words, the Wildcats will be fine and, assuming the returning players take their expected step forward, pretty dang good.
Really, that’s where Lloyd’s biggest impact will be felt, at least this season.
While he has a reputation for recruiting, some of the most promising talk surrounding him has been about his player development skills. Many felt Miller lacked in that area, and while it’s unfair to say the former coach never helped players improve (actually, it’s patently incorrect), if Lloyd can excel in that then the team — and program — will have a very bright future.
But for now, Lloyd remains unproven in pretty much all aspects of his job. Such is the case when you are a career assistant getting your first crack at a head coaching job, with the scrutiny being magnified when it’s a premier program like Arizona.
From everything he’s said that concept does not phase him. In fact, it’s part of why he took the job.
Similar to Miller before him, Lloyd understood that being the head coach of the Arizona men’s basketball program was an opportunity that could not be passed up. The pressure would be immense, but the reward, well, that could be something special.
And while maybe Lloyd has not done enough to make everyone think he is the right guy for the job, it’s important to remember he hasn’t done anything to make anyone think he isn’t, either.