Arizona basketball: Utah not so bad; Cats need better defense

Utah's Jordan Loveridge, battling with ASU's Carrick Felix on Wednesday, gave Arizona big problems in their first game.


As he watched versatile forward Rondae Jefferson on the basketball recruiting circuit over the past year, Arizona Wildcats coach Sean Miller sometimes wished he were an NBA general manager.

"Sometimes as a college coach you want to draft a player almost," Miller said. "You wish you had that pick that you can use to pick them, but it doesn't work that way."

So Miller tried the next best thing. He and assistant coach Book Richardson chased Jefferson around, flying to see him play in countless recruiting showcases and tapping into networks they had: Miller being from Pennsylvania and Richardson knowing Jefferson's travel-team coach since Richardson coached the New York Gauchos.

Miller said he knew early Jefferson would seriously consider Arizona - "sometimes a guy from the East wants to leave," he said - and Richardson said it also helped that Jefferson's brother was impressed with the UA while playing for Temple at McKale Center in the 2011 NCAA tournament.

So, on Thursday, it was Jefferson who decided to draft -Miller and the Wildcats. He signed a letter-of-intent for Arizona, joining Bay Area guard Elliott Pitts in a two-man UA recruiting class of 2013 that could still add one or two more players.

Both players are capable of several roles and should help fill UA future needs: Jefferson in place of departing forwards Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom, while Pitts adds shooting skill to an athletic backcourt that will lose Mark Lyons.

They also come from successful high school programs: Jefferson at powerhouse Chester High School and Pitts from perennially strong De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif.

"At Chester High School, in 4A basketball in Pennsylvania, where I'm from, it's as competitive as anywhere in the country - and he's won 58 games in a row," Miller said of Jefferson. Pitts "is from the storied De La Salle program, and that's one of the things I like about both guys - they're coached on a daily basis and winning matters in their school. De La Salle has an incredible program in the state of California and Elliott has been a central piece to their program the last few years."

Finally, both also were among ESPN's Top 100 high school players in the class of 2013.

"I'm impressed, but I'm not surprised," said ESPN recruiting analyst Paul Biancardi, a former college head and assistant coach. "Sean brought in high-major players at Xavier."

Here's more about UA's two signees:

Rondae Jefferson

Size: 6-6, 190

High school: Chester (Pa.) HS

Ratings: 11 (Scout), 17 (ESPN), 19 (Rivals)

What he's done: Jefferson averaged 12.1 points, 9.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.7 blocks as a junior last season, leading Chester to a 32-0 record and Pennsylvania 4A title. Jefferson was also a member of the USA Basketball Under-17 team this year but did not compete in the world championships because of injury.

What Jefferson says: "I just feel like as though that's a home away from home out there (in Tucson). The campus love is awesome, the coaching staff are great guys. It's like a family out there. They all love each other. I think we have a great chance of competing for a national championship at the college level. It's all about heart, and with me, I bring that a lot, and it tends to rub off." (From an interview with the Daily Times of Delaware County, Pa.)

What Miller says: "He's a warrior. He's similar to Solomon in that he can do a lot of things. He can handle the ball, he has a chance to be a great defensive player, he's almost 6-7 and long, very unselfish, can pass, and I think he is a player who is a great teammate. He can be at a lot of different spots. His versatility is the greatest thing that he has going for him."

What Biancardi says: "Rondae Jefferson is an incredible athlete with a high motor and intensity level that just doesn't go away. When I watched him play with (now-Charlotte Bobcat) Michael Gilchrist for Team Final (a travel team) and they're very similar, with a motor, intensity and ability to influence the game without scoring. (Jefferson) can score on the drive, put back, post up and on the occasional jumper. And he does all the little things that don't show up in the box score - hustle and defense. He's a guy that helps you win championships."

Elliott Pitts

Size: 6-5 190

High School: De La Salle, Concord, Calif.

Ratings: 91 (ESPN), 119 (Rivals), NR (Scout)

What he's done: Pitts averaged 16.0 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game last season to help De La Salle go 28-3 and reach the CIF Northern Region semifinals. As a sophomore, Pitts was part of a De La Salle team that reached the CIF Division I state finals before losing to Mater Dei High School of Santa Ana, Calif.

What Pitts says: "I'm really excited just to finally know I'm definitely going to Arizona and get this thing going. … I'm still the same person. I'll just be humble about it and just worry about this high school season coming up. I'm definitely going to be ready for college, but I'll worry about a state championship first." (From an interview with the Bay Area News Group)

What Miller says: "I don't believe he's getting enough credit right now for who he is as a player. Part of it is physically he's a late developer. I believe he's going to grow. He's certainly going to be heavier when he gets here. The attributes that we love about him as a player is he's a great passer, very skilled shooter and can play at more than one position."

What Biancardi says: "What I like about (Pitts) is he can knock down jumpers on all ends of the court. He can score at the rim, from midrange and distance. That really adds another weapon to Sean Miller's attack, but the jumper has to get polished. He plays with poise, though, and doesn't get rattled."

Up next

• Who: Long Beach St. at Arizona

• When: 7 p.m. Monday

• TV: Pac-12 Arizona

• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)