Shareef O’Neal signed scholarship papers apparently just as the fall signing period ended Thursday, giving UA coach Sean Miller a chance to talk about the two-man recruiting class he has so far.
O’Neal and Brandon Williams have both signed non-binding scholarship papers. While they have expressed their commitment to Arizona, not signing a binding letter-of-intent makes it easier for them to bail out if the Wildcats receive NCAA sanctions or run into other issues as a result of the ongoing investigations.
Miller declined to talk about recruiting during his weekly news conference Wednesday, possibly because O'Neal had not yet signed. But he began discussing them after Thursday's game by welcoming them both and by disputing reports that Williams suffered a knee injury that kept him out during the last high school season and the summer season.
“Brandon didn’t sustain an injury,” Miller said. “I think that’s important to note. He had something that’s more genetic with his leg that he was able to get fixed. To his family’s credit he did it at a time that was very smart and he missed a lot of action.
“So he wasn’t on the circuit this spring and summer. If he would have been I believe he would be a McDonalds all-American guard. What we love the most about him is he can score and be a playmaker. He’s great off the dribble, physically strong. He can shoot the 3-point shot. The game is changing where you can put three different guards out there at the same time and you don’t worry about what position they are. Brandon can be on the court with anybody.
“We look for him to come in and make an immediate impact. We’re thrilled to have him. He also plays for a great high school coach (Russell White) and a high school program (Crespi) that has produced some very, very good guards recently who have gone to college and had initial success and we expect Brandon to do that. He’s 100 percent healthy as well.”
Here’s what Miller said about O’Neal:
“Because he’s Shaquille’s son, sometimes you almost want to compare the two. They’re very different. Shareef is today’s version of a versatile forward, a wing player, very skilled, can shoot the 3-point shot. I believe as he continues to develop, he’ll be able to go both inside and outside. It’s that hybrid forward, that versatile big wing that has thrived in our program and I believe in time Shareef will do the same thing.
“Both are excellent kids. They know each other as well which is awesome. It’s exciting to have both guys and for us it’s really important to build off of that. Then as we get into the spring that our goal at the end would be to have a class of five, to have three people join them and feel really good about that group.”
I asked Miller if having them sign non-binding paperwork was a good compromise considering the situation.
“Very much so,” Miller said. “We’re in constant communication with both of their families and will do so all year.”
Typically, coaches will push for the binding LOIs, telling players they can’t hold spots unless they’re sure to come. But in this case it didn’t appear that either player was going to sign a binding letter, and Williams’ father initially said his son would wait until spring before signing the scholarship papers instead.
So in this case, the fact that both of them at least signed the non-binding paperwork allowed UA to announce their additions.
While Miller says he’s looking for a class of five guys, the fact is that he will likely lose at least six or more next spring.
Arizona will lose four seniors, while Deandre Ayton has already said he’s leaving, and nobody is expecting Rawle Alkins or Allonzo Trier to stick around, either. Then there's always somebody who either leaves early or transfers, and the uncertainty of UA's future could be an issue, too.
But Arizona might not have the full 13 scholarships available anyway if it faces recruiting sanctions that are either self-imposed or come from the NCAA as a result of the ongoing investigations.
Also, if he's still shorthanded, Miller could wade into the recruiting pool of grad transfers and other late-deciding talent well into the summer if needed, though Miller said that isn't easier than any other recruiting.
“It’s never easy,” Miller said. “Every recruiting situation takes a lot of work and there’s nothing easy about it.”
Asked about his recruiting strategy in a time of uncertainty, Miller said:
“We’re gonna do the same things we’ve always done: The best that we can. Each spring is its own a separate spring. You can’t go on what happened a year ago, a year from now, you have to take it for what is. You try to guide your players to make the best decisions for them.”
Although Alkins took shots without a boot during pregame warmups Thursday, Miller said he didn’t think Alkins would be able to play next week in the Battle 4 Atlantis.
“He’s working his way back,” Miller said. “He no longer has the boot. He was diagnosed as missing maybe 8 to 12 weeks. It’s too early to tell if it’ll be more 8 or 12. I don’t think it’ll be 12 but he’s working hard at rehab and we’re not going to rush him back but I do think he’s making a lot of progress.
“Next week is maybe week nine, so hopefully sometime after that he has the opportunity to play.”
Thursday was another display of mostly efficient shooting and patient ball movement from Arizona. The Wildcats shot 55.1 percent from the field, made 9 of 16 threes and had 14 assists for their 27 made shots.
After at least four passes on one second-half play, the last by Allonzo Trier, Emmanuel Akot hit an open 3 in the right corner.
Asked about that ball movement, Miller responded this way:
“One of the things that was lost (in looking at the game) was that they went zone for a few possessions and I loved the way our guys moved the ball against the zone, the confidence that they had,” Miller said. “We created great shots through team play and that’s been one of our early season emphasis, to make sure we can be as comfortable as possible against changing defenses.
"And that’s going to be a big part of next week (in the Battle 4 Atlantis) where you play a game on a Wednesday and it’s like all of a sudden the next day you’re playing against a completely different style. Thirteen (UA) turnovers was deceiving, because three or four happened in the last few minutes of the game.”
Miller said he would have let Trier stay in the game if he knew he was only two points shy of hitting the 30-point mark for the third straight game.
If you missed any of Miller's response, here it is in full:
“I would have left him in,” Miller said. “I wish I would have known that, but he did miss three free throws so we’re even. The only other thing with Allonzo, health is probably No. 1 and a lot of times you see that player unnecessarily get hurt in the very last three or four minutes for no reason so that is always No. 1, the team and its health.
"But if I would have known that, I would have kept him in and believe me he would have found a way to get two more points, I’m sure.”
Trier wasn't available for interviews afterward; Deandre Ayton and Alex Barcello were the players UA selected to be interviewed.
Ayton was asked what's the first thing he hopes to do or see upon returning home to the Bahamas next week. He appeared to be referring to the basketball experience.
"Energy, that’s what. A lot of chanting. I don’t know. Billboards?"
Ayton then said he hoped to visit his father "back home" in Nassau while staying with the Wildcats at a resort on adjacent Paradise Island.
"That's about it," he said.
Our game story and PDFs of the box score and UA stats are attached to this post.