Sean Miller deserves credit for getting Benn Mathurin, Dalen Terry and Christian Koloko to Tucson.
Tommy Lloyd will get the credit for what they do in the NBA.
Including the most recent three, Arizona has had more than 70 players selected in the NBA Draft. It’s an incredible number, and you need only go back as last week to find a way to use it to poke fun at Arizona State.
But while Arizona has provided the world’s best league with plenty of players, the unfortunate reality is that, at least lately, few have lived up to their draft position or expectations.
That’s not to say Deandre Ayton hasn’t been good, or that neither Lauri Markkanen nor Aaron Gordon have made an impact. Just, the latter two are already on their second teams and the first one may very well be heading for another roster, too.
The bulk of the rest of the draftees have found themselves on the end of benches or out of the NBA entirely, though the verdict has not yet returned for the likes of Josh Green and Zeke Nnaji.
It’s a trend that hasn’t really hurt Arizona; players want to get to the NBA, and the program has helped them do just that. Yet, if the Wildcats can get back to producing top-tier NBA talent, well, that would really help Arizona.
You know the joy and pride that came with hearing, “with the sixth pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, the Indiana Pacers select Bennedect Mathurin, from Montreal, the NBA Academy Latin America and the University of Arizona” or “the Chicago Bulls select Dalen Terry from the University of Arizona”?
How big was the smile on your face when you heard that the Raptors took, “Christian Koloko from Douala, Cameroon and the University of Arizona.”
The conversations following each of the picks surrounded what they accomplished at Arizona, under Lloyd. And from here on out, every new pro Wildcat will be a reflection of the coach.
Part of what made Lloyd such an attractive option for Arizona was that the system he runs is tailored to the new NBA. The League wants versatility, so long as it can shoot and handle the ball. That figures to be the kind of player the coach brings to Tucson, supplementing them with bigs who can get up and down the court while blocking shots and snagging some boards.
Part of what makes schools like Duke and Kentucky an attractive option for recruits is the fact that not only will those programs produce professionals, but they have a pretty high rate of producing high draft picks and All-Stars.
That’s not to say every player from those schools pans out, as there’s not a single program that can claim a bevvy of draft picks and say every one of them has had an above-average NBA career. Especially in today’s era, where often times the best players spend just one season in college, it’s absolutely fair to question how much credit — or blame — a coach should get.
But the perception game is rarely a fair one. If Arizona can re-earn a reputation for producing quality NBA players, the program will be viewed in a different light and a coach who has had little trouble bringing talent to Tucson should find even more success on the recruiting trail.
That, in turn, should lead to more and even bigger victories on the court, ideally elevating the program to a level Lloyd’s predecessor couldn’t manage to reach.