"Honor the Process" is what Sean Miller stresses to his players.
Work hard, prepare properly, and the results will follow. And this recruiting season has proven that Miller practices what is preached.
A few months ago, the 2016 recruiting class looked like an utter failure. T.J. Leaf -- a five-star prospect -- had been committed to Arizona for nearly a calendar year, but he surprisingly decommitted this past August. The lone member of the class was gone, and panic ensued. And, to some extent, the concern was warranted. Arizona hadn't been in a position like that since Kevin O'Neill and Russ Pennell were pacing the sidelines of McKale Center.
But now Sean Miller is at the helm, and if there's anything Wildcat fans should know about their head coach by now it's to trust him. Miller has consistently produced top recruiting classes year in and year out, and there was no reason to mash the panic button just yet.
Miller is working tirelessly to piece together the 2016 class, and based on his previous track record, it was a situation where it was a matter of 'when' Arizona would land a commitment, not 'if'.
"We're very active in our recruiting efforts," Miller said after the team's win against Washington State. "I have said it, and I'll say it again... we're just getting started. I believe that this class is going to be a good one, but we're going to point towards the spring, when all of the chips will fall."
But two months following Leaf's decommitment, Arizona's recruiting class was still barren. Top recruits were flying off the board and the Wildcats remained on the outside looking in. With Kaleb Tarczewski, Ryan Anderson, Gabe York, and Mark Tollefsen all graduating after this season and Allonzo Trier possibly departing for the NBA, Arizona is going to need to add a considerable amount of talent to replace them.
Finally, after months without a single commit, Miller reeled one in. During the weekend of the Red-Blue game, four-star Finnish forward Lauri Markkanen pledged to Arizona on his official visit and would become the first member of the 2016 recruiting class.
The diversely skilled, 6-11 big man was obviously a welcomed addition, but one commitment wouldn't completely erase the uneasiness, and the current recruiting scene didn't exactly inspire confidence. The sheer number of top prospects that remained continued to dwindle, and it was a mystery where the next commitment would come from, as the Wildcats didn't appear to be the leading school for any of the top players available.
Then came Kobi Simmons. In what was somewhat of a surprise, the five-star prospect chose Arizona over Kentucky, Ohio State, and UNLV. It wasn't so much the decision itself that was shocking, but Arizona hadn't really been discussed as a destination for Simmons until the past week or so. Arizona wasn't even listed in his top three until recently, but Miller and the rest of the staff continued to be diligent.
"A lot of people don’t know, but this is going on four years of them recruiting me," Simmons told Scout.com. "I’ve been to their games. I went to a game when they played at Clemson my freshman year."
Simmons has never even visited Tucson, which was another reason why Arizona didn't appear to be in serious consideration, but it turns out his relationship with the coaching staff was the deciding factor.
"I’m going to Arizona and really my relationship with Miller and his staff just grew and grew," Simmons told Scout. "We have an indescribable relationship. I just feel more comfortable with that stuff and I can trust them the most."
"It’s not like a school like North Dakota or something, where you have to go see if you’ll like it," he added. "It’s out there. I will be going out there right after I commit. That’s not really a big factor, I just know that’s where I need to be."
Sean Miller and company sealed the deal and all of a sudden, the once-bleak recruiting situation now oozes with optimism. Aside from Simmons being in the fold, top-three recruit Josh Jackson will likely eventually pick between Arizona and Michigan State, and Simmons is trying to get ESPN's No. 18 2016 recruit Rawle Alkens to join him in Tucson.
But whether Jackson or Alkens choose Arizona or not, one thing is for sure; Miller is still working to add more pieces and the 2016 recruiting class will ultimately be even more expansive than it is now.
Miller mentioned he envisions the team adding "four or five" recruits (not including Markkanen) before all is said and done.
If his projection is true, Arizona will finish with one of the top recruiting classes in the nation yet again. That's something that, not too long ago, seemed out of the picture. And, once the 2016 class is a finished product, all the concerns about the program's direction and Miller's recruiting ability that surfaced in the past few months will prove to be misguided.
"Those that have given up on our ability to strike in the class of 2016 are really going down the wrong path," Miller warned.