Until the FBI’s investigation into college basketball became public in late September, the fall signing period that starts Wednesday was looking like a pretty celebratory event for the Arizona Wildcats.
Maybe even ESPN-worthy.
Arizona was a consensus No. 1 pick among major preseason publications and coaches were lining up a powerhouse 2018 class that suggested more sustained success.
The Wildcats held a commitment from five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly, and were believed to be leading, or at least among the leaders, for four players in the Top 10 of the Rivals.com and Scout.com rankings: Center Bol Bol plus forwards Nassir Little, Simi Shittu and R.J. Barrett.
None of those five-star talents are considering Arizona anymore. And the Wildcats’ two remaining commitments, Shareef O’Neal and Brandon Williams, may not sign until the spring signing period because of questions surrounding the investigation.
Efforts to reach O’Neal were unsuccessful. Chris Wright, Williams’ father, said his son was “99 percent” likely to wait until the spring.
“It looks like it will probably be a spring decision,” Wright said. “We’re still 100 percent Arizona and not looking at other schools but still looking at it day by day. If Sean Miller gets through this investigation, there’s a good chance he’ll sign.”
Wright said both his family and the UA staff “haven’t even thought about it since this all broke,” but have been deciding whether or not to sign with the signing period approaching.
Players have from Wednesday until Nov. 15 to sign either a binding letter-of-intent or non-binding scholarship papers. Or they can wait until the spring signing period begins on April 11.
Wright said Williams had a great time while visiting for UA’s Red-Blue Game last month but that the family still wants to hold off.
It isn’t known if (or when) allegations in the federal complaint could translate into NCAA sanctions. Arizona assistant coach Book Richardson was indicted Tuesday on federal bribery and fraud charges, and a sports agent was quoted in a federal complaint saying a current UA player has been paid already. Richardson is due in court later this week.
The allegations have made Williams’ family pause.
People say, “if you’re 100 percent committed, why not sign?’” Wright said. “It’s, ‘dude, there’s an FBI investigation.’”
Miller said Tuesday that he didn’t know if the Wildcats would receive any signed papers. The coach can’t discuss individual recruits until their letters are received, but has said before previous signing periods how many players in general he hopes or expects to add.
Even if O’Neal and Williams eventually wind up with the Wildcats, Miller could still have to replace anywhere from six to eight players next spring: UA will lose four seniors, while junior Allonzo Trier, sophomore Rawle Alkins and freshman Deandre Ayton are expected to leave for the NBA. Freshmen Emmanuel Akot and Brandon Randolph are projected first-round NBA talents whenever they decide to go.
So Miller is expecting a busy spring of recruiting.
“I think so, yeah,” Miller said.
Until then, Arizona’s 2018 recruiting class is mostly a what-coulda-been situation. Here’s an update on UA’s former five-star targets:
- Quinerly, a 6-foot point guard from New Jersey, decommited from Arizona on Oct. 19 after being named in the federal complaint. Richardson was alleged to have taken $20,000 from a sports agent and funneled most of it to Quinerly in exchange for an assurance that Richardson would steer current UA players to the agent for professional representation.
Quinerly remains uncommitted and there are questions over whether he will play college basketball anywhere. Quinerly would likely to be ineligible as a freshman if it is proven he took a five-figure amount.
- Little, a 6-7 forward from Orlando, committed to North Carolina on Oct. 5, choosing the Tar Heels over Arizona, Georgia Tech, Duke and Miami. He was referenced in the federal complaint as the subject of an alleged bidding war between UA and Miami. Little will sign with North Carolina on Nov. 11, according to his club ball program.
- Shittu, a 6-8 forward from Burlington, Ontario, canceled a scheduled Nov. 3 recruiting visit to Arizona and now is considering only North Carolina and Vanderbilt. He will have visited both finalists after this weekend, when he plans to see North Carolina.
- Barrett, a 6-6 forward from Mississauga, Ontario, who has been regarded as the No. 1 player in 2018 once Duke’s Marvin Bagley reclassified to 2017, confirmed via Twitter just four days after the FBI news surfaced that he was no longer considering Arizona. He posted a top three of Duke, Oregon and Kentucky.
Barrett is scheduled to announce his decision Saturday at 4 p.m. on Canadian sports network TSN.
- It is unclear if Randolph (concussion) will be able to play in UA’s opener Friday against Northern Arizona or its Sunday game with UMBC. “I know Brandon is making the slow steady process that you would expect where he’s really doing a good job with his diet, drinking a lot of water, resting,” Miller said. “It’s just a matter of the symptoms that he had last week to go away.”
- Miller said Trier was “deserving” of his inclusion on the Associated Press preseason all-America team but that “my hope is that we can talk about it at the end of the year.”