Greg Hansen: Wildcats coach ahead of curve in new times

Despite continuous change, Miller keeps UA one step ahead
2013-08-07T00:00:00Z Greg Hansen: Wildcats coach ahead of curve in new timesGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 07, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Sean Miller was talking about Zach Peters and how he is expected to be "part of the solution" to Arizona's outside shooting prowess. I had to pause to get the spelling correct.


"He's a great shooter," Miller was saying on Tuesday. "He has a bright future."

That's Zach Peters, with no "k."

If you flip the page or briefly turn your attention from college basketball, you do not know Zach Peters from Peter Zack, even though he was a top-100 freshman at Kansas this time a year ago.

Now Mr. Peters is a 6-foot-10-inch Wildcat-in-waiting, the latest in a dazzling series of elite prospects Miller has acquired in what seems to be the last 20 minutes.

College basketball has become a blur.

Mark Lyons was in and out of the Arizona lineup with such suddenness that I had to look it up to be sure the one-year all-conference point guard used a "k" or a "c" to spell his first name.

He is the anti-Zach Peters. Lyons is a "k."

Miller spent 35 minutes chatting about his fifth Arizona team Tuesday, part of what has become an annual summer update on the latest face-lift at McKale Center. Why was this necessary? Because so much changes.

Almost uncannily, Miller continues to be a step ahead of change.

On Monday, former UA forward Grant Jerrett, awaiting what he hopes is his NBA debut, tapped out the Twitter message "are people going back to school already?"

You'll have to forgive Jerrett if he has forgotten the college process after a lone season at Arizona. UA freshman Rondae Jefferson-Hollis, a McDonald's All-American, has been in school, working out with UA coaches since early July.

The pace and transition of player movement in college basketball is unprecedented and, frankly, disconcerting.

On Tuesday, ASU sophomore point guard Jahii Carson announced he will leave the Sun Devils after this season. "This is my last go round," he posted on his Twitter account.

There goes the franchise.

But unlike most college basketball coaches, Miller seems to be in front of the year-to-year revisionism. It's not likely to cease.

It's entirely possible that when Miller gives his annual summer update in August 2014, he will have replaced five more players, including possible NBA draftees Kaleb Tarczewski, Aaron Gordon, Brandon Ashley and Nick Johnson.

And it wouldn't be a shock if the loser of the Gabe York vs. Elliott Pitts competition for playing time also suits up elsewhere next season. Maybe both.

Angelo Chol, where are you?

At a school such as Arizona, no basketball player is irreplaceable, and there is no such thing as recruiting too soon. If you're not planning your roster for 2016-17, you might never catch up.

Miller said he first evaluated and established a connection with Aaron Gordon a month before Gordon's sophomore season at a San Jose, Calif., high school. That's when Derrick Williams was entering his sophomore season at Arizona.

That's how it works at the upper tier of college basketball. If you don't get your foot in the door when a prospect is 15, if you're not insulated and protected from roster turnover - if you are not working three years ahead - you can rarely regain your traction.

The result of life at the blue-chip level is that a school like Arizona can't often afford to pursue what Miller says is a kid "who may blossom late."

"On a player like (Gordon), it starts earlier and earlier," said Miller. "You can't recruit a diamond-in-the-rough."

The irony is that those diamond-in-the-roughs are at the foundation of Arizona's basketball excellence.

In its first two Final Four appearances, the Wildcats were stocked with late-bloomers and mid-level prospects such as Jud Buechler, Anthony Cook and Joseph Blair.

It's unlikely Miller would identify any from that group as an Arizona-good player today, but those long-ago recruiting battles continue to pay off.

Blair's return to the UA basketball family, as a one-year graduate assistant coach, is indicative of the changes in the game. The rich get richer because they are able to tap into their resources.

Who wouldn't want to learn from the 6-10 Blair, a starter on Arizona's 1994 Final Four team, a man with more than a decade of pro basketball experience who still appears fit enough to put on a jersey and get 14 points and 10 rebounds against UCLA?

Now Blair will be able to counsel and instruct someone like Zach Peters every afternoon. In some ways, the acquisition of Blair all but balances the premature loss of Jerrett.

Even before Miller faces his inevitable personnel losses of the 2013-14 season, he has found a replacement.

Contact columnist Greg Hansen at ghansen@azstarnet.com or 573-4362. On Twitter @ghansen711

Copyright 2015 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pac-12 basketball standings

  Conference Overall
Utah 6 1 0 0.857 16 3 0 0.842
Arizona 6 1 0 0.857 18 2 0 0.900
Stanford 5 2 0 0.714 14 5 0 0.737
Oregon State 5 2 0 0.714 13 5 0 0.722
Oregon 4 3 0 0.571 14 6 0 0.700
UCLA 3 4 0 0.429 11 9 0 0.550
Colorado 3 4 0 0.429 10 8 0 0.556
Washington 3 4 0 0.429 14 5 0 0.737
Washington State 3 4 0 0.429 9 10 0 0.474
Arizona State 2 5 0 0.286 11 10 0 0.524
California 1 6 0 0.143 11 9 0 0.550
USC 1 6 0 0.143 9 10 0 0.474

AP Top 25

Pac-12 basketball schedule

Teams Date Time
Oregon State at
Arizona State
1/28 6:00 pm
Oregon at
1/28 8:00 pm
Stanford at
1/28 9:00 pm
Colorado at
1/29 7:30 pm
Utah at
1/29 8:00 pm
California at
Washington State
1/29 9:00 pm
Oregon at
Arizona State
1/30 6:00 pm
Oregon State at
1/30 8:00 pm
Stanford at
Washington State
1/31 6:00 pm
Colorado at
1/31 8:30 pm
Utah at
2/1 12:30 pm
California at
2/1 1:00 pm
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