Craig Victor sat at a banquet in New Orleans with friends, family and travel-ball teammates Saturday knowing he could have instantly become the life of the party. A hometown hero choosing to play for LSU.
But the five-star forward had another goal in mind. Namely, forging a path through the Arizona basketball program to the NBA.
So Victor announced at the banquet that he would play for the Wildcats, becoming UA's second recruit of a potentially large 2014 class, knowing that he would disappoint hometown folks who had pressured him to stay near home in Baton Rouge.
"I wouldn't say it was fun," Victor told the Star by telephone about his announcement. "I went against the home team. But at the same time, it's the situation."
The situation is this: Arizona is bracing for early pro departures of several frontcourt players next spring, and expects to have several openings for prominent roles in 2014-15. Victor joins point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright in a 2014 class that could eventually total five or six players.
At the same time, the Wildcats under coach Sean Miller have proven an ability to increase the NBA stock of combo forwards such as Derrick Williams and Solomon Hill. They also landed an especially decorated 2013 combo forward last spring in Aaron Gordon.
The trend has become so clear that ESPN recruiting analyst Reggie Rankin even suggested after Victor's announcement Saturday that what has been known as "Point Guard U" can now be considered "Combination Forward University."
What Williams and Hill did at Arizona, taking plenty of minutes early in their careers and eventually becoming first-round NBA picks, is exactly what Victor wants to do.
Somewhat like Williams and Hill were out of high school, Victor is known to have a solid offensive and defensive game around the basket with a developing presence from the mid-range and on the perimeter.
"It's just to be able to develop my skills so I can play in the NBA," Victor said. "That's the main thing. Come in and compete with everybody."
Victor also opted to transfer this season from New Orleans St. Augustine High School, the alma mater of former UA forward Gene Edgerson, to Nevada powerhouse Findlay Prep for the same reason. Victor was a center out of necessity at St. Augustine, but Findlay is expected to use him at power forward and small forward, where he is aiming to play in college and pro basketball.
But development wasn't the only reason Victor chose to stay out west for college.
Having already visited UA unofficially, and planning an official visit for sometime this fall, Victor rattled off a list of reasons why he liked Arizona.
"The opportunity, the school in general, the supporting cast, the brand of the school and the role I'd be in," Victor said, also citing the passion of UA fans.
What's more, he has come to know the entire UA coaching staff well. Victor has known UA associate head coach Joe Pasternack, the former head coach at the University of New Orleans, since he was in eighth grade.
According to Graegg Holmes, director of the New Orleans Elite travel-ball program, Victor also knew UA assistant Book Richardson from playing against him with the Elite, and UA assistant Damon Stoudamire, who had recruited New Orleans players for Memphis before moving to UA this summer.
But LSU tried to throw a late curveball at those ties. The Tigers this spring hired a well-regarded recruiter in former UCLA assistant coach Korey McCray, who had helped the Bruins land Jordan Adams and Tony Parker. McCray also was known to have a strong relationship with Victor, leading the New Orleans Times-Picayune to predict Friday that Victor would commit to the Tigers.
"McCray has helped to lead the push for Victor to attend LSU, and it appears his hard work is paying off," the Times-Picayune wrote.
Even though Victor chose Arizona, the prediction wasn't far off the mark, the way Holmes described it.
"He was definitely thinking about other schools," Holmes said. LSU "did a great job of recruiting him and trying to convince him to stay home and become a guy who could change the program."
While Victor said he didn't talk to college coaches recently while he finalized his decision, he did run the possibilities past Holmes.
Holmes essentially told him he couldn't go wrong.
"I thought both of them were great situations for him," Holmes said. With LSU, "it was coming back and being able to contribute to a program that was on the upswing.
"With Arizona it was being able to develop and be on that national stage. He still feels like he has a lot to prove, and he felt that was the best opportunity to win big and win now. It was good for him either way. That's why it was so difficult."
On StarNet: Follow the Cats' recruiting efforts on Bruce Pascoe's blog at azstarnet.com/pascoe
All about Craig Victor
• Class: 2014
• Hometown: New Orleans
• High school: Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.)
• Travel team: New Orleans Elite
• Position: Power forward, with potential at small forward
• Game: Good all-around inside skills, including rebounding and defense.
• Rankings: 14 (Scout), 21 (Rivals), 31 (ESPNU)
• Other schools considered: LSU, Oklahoma State