Arizona's past success helps Sean Miller shape its future
- Sean Miller, who continues to pull in top recruiting classes, has adjusted the way he finds players and promoted Arizona's past as he shapes its future.
Keep up with all the latest in college basketball recruiting news, rankings, and highlights at Scout.com.
Currently the Arizona Wildcats sit as the No. 3 class in the Scout.com Rankings. That should come as no surprise given the way Sean Miller and his staff have recruited since arriving in Tucson. With two big commitments already in the fold, and several more high profile targets on the hook, Miller looks again to be on his way to a top five recruiting class.
While Duke and Kentucky get most of the attention for their gaudy recruiting classes, Arizona hasn’t been far behind over the past handful of seasons. Miller might not always land a handful of one-and-done prospects, but he has landed more than his share of five-star players.
In fact, between the 2013 and 2016, Miller signed an astounding nine five-star prospects. That counts Terrance Ferguson, who decided not to enroll, but it is worth noting that in 2017 Arizona has the No. 1 overall prospect DeAndre Ayton committed as well.
When it comes to the success he and his staff have had, Miller says it is important to point out the success Arizona has had in the past.
“I think the one big advantage that we have is our tradition which started a long, long time ago,” said Miller. “You can look at the power of Steve Kerr coaching the Golden State Warriors and now Luke Walton coaching the Los Angeles Lakers, and if you watched the NBA Finals, you had Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye win a championship with Andre Iguodala also in the game.”
He continued, “I say that to explain it isn’t just about what we do or how hard we work, a lot of the times the sell is already in place. There has been generations of excellence here. It started with Lute Olson and the great teams he had; it sets us up to be successful.”
For Arizona one important factor is maximizing their time as a staff. In essence that means not wasting time, and that is something Miller learned in his previous stop at Xavier.
“A major thing you have is that in recruiting it isn’t just about who you are going after and who you are going to get,” explained Miller. “I think these days it is more important to know who not to waste time on and who not to pursue, because at the end of the day whether you were able to establish a relationship or not, isn't irrelevant. It is about did you get the kid or not.”
He continued, “At Xavier it is an incredible training ground for that because at Xavier you are at an incredible place, but when I was there perception didn’t always match that. And because there are so many other incredible places in close proximity, you have to be great at evaluating who is really interested in you, because it is such a competitive area of the country to recruit from.”
One thing Miller has changed over the years is how he decides where to recruit. Miller had long held a “bread basket” theory for how to lure the best players.
For years Miller felt that the way to be successful in recruiting was to focus on your surrounding area, or your bread basket, and only venture outside of it when you had a direct connection to a kid or the people around him.
However, the last few years Miller has stretched things in a different way. In the 2016 class he successfully signed Rawle Alkins out of New York, Kobi Simmons from Georgia, and also received a letter of intent of Terrance Ferguson from Texas.
About his evolving recruiting philosophy, Miller said, “I think it is the ever changing game that we are in. I think five years ago recruiting was different than it is now, and I think five years from now it won’t be the same that it is today.”
He went on,“The thing about young people these days is they aren’t signing up to go to school close to home. One reason is, at the highest level of college basketball they aren’t picturing themselves being at that school for a long period of time.”
Because of the way colleges are now viewed by kids, and due to more and more games being on national television, Miller says recruiting in his bread basket is less necessary than ever.
“Distance from home to me has never been more irrelevant,” said Miller. “With that we just try to find those kids who fit who we are.”
Miller continued, “That doesn’t mean we recruit any kid, any place, any time, nothing could be further from the truth. Our key is not wasting time, and trust me we’ve wasted time in the past, but that is a big deal for us. We want to identify who to recruit and who fits into our culture no matter where they are from.”
While Miller might be changing who he recruits in regards to geography, don’t expect his theory on who to recruit to change in terms of ability.
While Duke and Kentucky typically have entirely new teams from year to year due to mass defections of one-and-done prospects, Miller prefers more of a blend between four-year guys and players who might only spend one season in Tucson.
“Like anything, as a head coach you have to recruit to your personality,” explained Miller. “For us that is a blend. For every great young player like Rondae (Hollis-Jefferson), Stanley (Johnson), or Aaron (Gordon) who all came in and did an incredible job for us, they were all anchored by experienced older players who in their own right were also very good.
“We are after a balance, and when you have that balance correct, that means you have a great program. And that is the next part of it all, you don’t want to just have a great team. To be a consistent program you have to have balance, because we couldn’t recruit eight kids a year forever. We have a hard enough time recruiting four or five a year.”
While Duke and Kentucky might get most of the press for their recruiting exploits, Miller takes a backseat to nobody on the recruiting trail, and with his philosophies in place and a veteran and experienced staff working with him, the Wildcats are showing no sign of slowing down any time soon.