It would require something extraordinary to shift attention to Arizona’s 2015-16 season. Why? Because there’s so much to look forward to in 2014-15. The Wildcats enter the upcoming season a few months removed a campaign in which they won 33 games, spent eight weeks ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll, won the Pac-12 regular season championship, earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and barely missed the Final Four. Defensive ace Aaron Gordon and conference player of the year Nick Johnson departed for the NBA, but the Wildcats are well-equipped to replace them.
Small forward Stanley Johnson, the No. 3-ranked player in the class of 2014, according to Rivals.com, headlines one of the nation’s best incoming freshman classes. The five-man group, which also includes top-50 power forward Craig Victor and heralded junior college shooting guard Kadeem Allen, will join a cast of returners poised to help the Wildcats aim for even loftier goals. Forwards Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski are projected draft picks, junior Gabe York is an excellent perimeter shooter and senior T.J. McConnell is the smart, creative point guard overseeing the whole operation.
Arizona is ranked No. 3 in SI.com’s very early preseason top 25. With such a promising season on tap, why are some already talking about next October? On Sunday, multiple outlets reported that Allonzo Trier, the No. 12-ranked player in the class of 2015, has verbally committed to the Wildcats. Trier, who was featured on the cover of The New York Times magazine in 2009 (when he was 13), is considered one of the top scorers in his class. He averaged 31 points over five games (including one 42-point performance against Isaiah Briscoe, another heralded 2015 guard) at the Nike Peach Jam tournament in July.
Trier is the latest five-star talent in 2015 to commit to Sean Miller and the Wildcats. He joins Justin Simon, a versatile, 6-foot-5 combo guard renowned for his dogged defense, and Ray Smith, an athletic, 6-7 wing who excels attacking in transition. And Arizona isn’t done yet. The Wildcats are still in the mix for big men Chance Comanche, Ivan Rabb and center Stephen Zimmerman – the latter two are top-10 players in the class of 2015. With three five-stars already committed and one more a distinct possibility, Miller is well on his way to landing the nation’s top recruiting class.
“They’ve got three high-caliber commitments right now and three guys that are right at the top of each of their depth charts at the position,” said Evan Daniels, a national recruiting analyst for Scout.com. Daniels highlighted Trier as the player who may be able to make the biggest impact right away. “I think Trier’s probably the one that will be the most college ready,” Daniels said. He added: “He’s going to be able to score the ball out of the gate”
Of course, recruiting top prospects is nothing new for Arizona. The Wildcats have landed 11 top-25 prospects in their last five classes, bested only by Kentucky’s 16 over their last four. What makes Arizona’s 2015 haul so important is that it will allow the Wildcats to re-load after potentially losing their entire starting lineup. Tarczewski, Ashley, Hollis-Jefferson and Johnson could all enter the draft next June, and McConnell will graduate. Trier, Smith, Simon and whoever else decides to join Arizona’s 2015 class should have the opportunity to earn significant playing time right away.
“Sean Miller – what he’s doing and accomplishing on the recruiting trail is beyond impressive,” Daniels said. “And it’s not just a one-year thing. It’s turning into an every-year thing. But this class he has going on right now has the potential to be great.”
The class plus coveted Boston College transfer Ryan Anderson (who will sit out this season) and the players who stick around after 2014-15 should again make Arizona one of the nation’s top teams heading into next season. Can’t be bothered to gaze a year into the future? The Wildcats won’t be a boring outfit in the meantime. Johnson, Hollis-Jefferson and the rest of the 2014-15 crew can realistically set their sights on a conference championship and another deep tournament run.