Arizona's NCAA basketball sanctions appeared to hit home Tuesday when the Wildcats backed away from the interest of a top-10 recruit.
Already two over their 2011-12 allotment of just 12 scholarships, one fewer than normal because of violations from the Lute Olson era, the Wildcats canceled a scheduled campus visit this weekend from Dallas forward LeBryan Nash.
Nash's travel team coach, Tony Johnson, said UA assistant coach Book Richardson called Tuesday to tell him the Wildcats could no longer host the visit and that the Wildcats hoped Nash would visit later if he waits until the spring signing period.
Even considering Arizona's scholarship situation, the news came as a surprise to Johnson, whose standout player is rated No. 4 overall by Rivals and No. 11 by Scout. It is rare that a program turns away a five-star prospect on scholarship availability alone.
"He's too good a player to make a mistake on," Johnson said.
But the Wildcats' scholarship situation tightened considerably Sunday when they accepted a commitment from Sacramento, Calif., guard Josiah Turner, who will join guard Nick Johnson and forward Sidiki Johnson in signing UA letters of intent in November. Arizona already has 11 scholarship players scheduled to return next season if there are no transfers or early pro departures.
Although signing one or two players over the limit is not unusual for elite college basketball programs that have to protect themselves in the event of unexpected pro departures or transfers in the spring, excessive oversigning can damage a team's Academic Progress Rate and/or a coach's reputation with players and parents.
As of now, the Wildcats are bracing for forward Derrick Williams to turn professional early, creating one additional scholarship next season, and the Wildcats typically lose at least one player to a transfer every year.
Although UA senior associate AD Rocky LaRose said players' interests are the foremost concern, she added that the basketball team would not fall into APR trouble even with two transfers this season. Arizona rated a 944 score in the four-year rolling APR average released last spring, comfortably above the 925 mark in which programs may be penalized.
In addition, while players can cost their programs points for both academic ineligibility and for leaving with eligibility remaining, there is no penalty if they leave to sign a professional contract or if they transfer to a Division I program while having at least a 2.6 grade-point average.
"We monitor it regularly so we're pretty on top of it," LaRose said. "The coaches understand the rules so we've got to allow them as the owner of their own team (to manage the numbers). But they're fully aware of how we feel."
The Wildcats will know their 2011-12 scholarship situation much more clearly in the spring, but Tony Johnson said Nash would like to make a decision this fall.
While Nash has said Oklahoma State was leading, he also told the Star last week he watched Arizona on TV often last season and liked coach Sean Miller's system. In addition, Tony Johnson said Nash was "very excited" about visiting Arizona and thought highly of Nick Johnson.
"He was very interested" in Arizona, Tony Johnson said. "They had a real good chance."