Two seasons ago, then-ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep told good buddy Jay Cyriac that he was going to check out a North Carolina guard that everyone was ranting and raving about.
By halftime of Kadeem Allen’s game, Telep pulled out his phone and dialed Cyriac, an assistant coach at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College.
“He said, ‘You need to get out here,’ ” Cyriac said.
Allen turned out to be an All-America junior college player for Hutchinson last season and attracted a scholarship offer from Arizona, and he committed to the Wildcats after a recruiting visit to Tucson last weekend.
But it didn’t all happen easily.
Kirk Angel, Allen’s coach at New Hanover High School of Wilmington, N.C., said Allen transferred in as a senior needing significant academic work to qualify for Division I eligibility. When Allen just missed qualifying, Angel said, he began considering alternatives that included a fifth-year prep school.
Cyriac worked to get Allen, but was told the guard was going the prep school route, which can offer a player a fifth year of high school to become eligible at a four-year college. Cyriac figured he would have to move on.
Then, in April, he received a text from Allen.
“He said, ‘Do you still want me?’ ” Cyriac said. “I said, ‘Hell, yes.’ ”
The deal worked out for both sides.
Hutchinson received a freshman All-American, while Allen received a full scholarship at Hutchinson instead of having to pay his way partially at a prep school, and elevated his recruitment stock by playing both point and shooting guard.
Allen said he received interest only from schools such as VCU and East Carolina out of high school but this week turned down Kansas to accept a scholarship with Arizona.
“It almost worked out better,” Angel said. “Coach Eck (Hutchinson head coach Steve Eck) and Coach Cyriac have done great things with him. And his best basketball is yet to come.”
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson spent last spring playing with fellow McDonald’s All-Americans at Chicago’s United Center. Then he played in Portland’s Rose Garden for USA Basketball against some of the world’s best young players.
But Monday, in an exhibition college basketball game at McKale Center, the Wildcat freshman forward found something else all together.
“It’s just a different experience coming from high school,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “The pace of the game is much faster, it’s quicker and the transition of it is tough. Then you’ve got a great point guard, a great shooting guard and it’s different to play with those guys. Being able to work with those guys is tremendous.”
During UA’s 84-52 win over Division II Augustana (S.D.) College, Hollis-Jefferson rode a wave of highs and lows. He shot 2 of 7 from the field, but managed to make his way to the line for 6 of 9 free throws, and collected three steals and three rebounds.
He was also one of six Wildcats with two or more assists, joining in Arizona’s balanced offensive attack.
“It feels great to come out here with these teammates,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “We’ve got good communication. We’re great friends off the court. We go out to eat and do a lot of things that some teams don’t do. The cohesiveness, I think, is pretty good.”
UA coach Sean Miller gave eight players 20 minutes or more of playing time on Monday, which could be a clue to his early season rotation.
Guards Gabe York (21 minutes) and Jordin Mayes (20) joined Hollis-Jefferson (20) as the most frequent substitutes in what could be a shorter rotation than initially expected — at least pending forward Zach Peters’ medical clearance after a history of concussions.
“We’re hopeful he can get cleared here in the next week to 10 days and he would give us another potential player out there,” Miller said. “I think we’re going to play eight guys and really rotate them. Everyone thinks you’re deeper on the outside than the coach really does.”
Miller said a ninth man (such as Matt Korcheck or Peters, if he’s cleared) “could get in, but it’s going to be some games more than others.”
However, if Peters and Korcheck are not factors, that means UA must rely on small forward Aaron Gordon’s sliding to power forward when either big man, Brandon Ashley or Kaleb Tarczewski, is out. When Ashley and Tarczewski ran into foul trouble Monday — and Gordon was nursing a sore groin — UA tried unsuccessfully to put Hollis-Jefferson at power forward.
“So far, we’ve given Rondae one position (small forward). … It’s so hard to give freshmen two positions,” Miller said. “We want to make him comfortable first. But … what he gives us is another quick defender at the four. We’ll be deeper if he can slide over and play that position.”
• Miller indicated that limiting Gordon on Monday was somewhat precautionary. “The last thing you want to do is aggravate it,” Miller said. “It’s only a strain right now and we don’t want it to evolve into something that’s bigger than that.”
• Miller said the “most disappointing” part of Monday’s game is that the Wildcats wound up in a 39-39 rebounding tie with Augustana, which has only one player taller than 6 feet 6 inches. “We just had some big guys not go,” Miller said. “When you’re playing against a skilled team, a lot of times when you negate that skills is with the rebounding, the physicality.”
• The Wildcats will play at Saint Mary’s in a closed scrimmage on Saturday before returning home to prepare for their Nov. 8 regular-season opener against Cal Poly.