NEW YORK — Two Elite Eights and three Sweet Sixteens in the past four seasons says the Arizona Wildcats are back among the college basketball elite.
More evidence will arrive at Thursday’s NBA draft in Brooklyn.
For the second straight year, the Wildcats will have a first-round NBA draft pick with Aaron Gordon and possibly a second-rounder in Nick Johnson.
And next year, according to two early 2015 mock draft projections, Arizona could have multiple first-rounders with players such as Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Stanley Johnson, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski.
That suggests that after two draft-pick-less years (2010 and 2012), before coach Sean Miller began stringing together powerhouse recruiting classes, the Wildcats are producing picks at the pace that Lute Olson did during his peak seasons.
Arizona put a first-round pick into the NBA every 1.3 years on average between 1993 and 2005, while Miller is nearly matching that pace in his sixth offseason with Arizona.
Miller already has put two Wildcats into the first-round — Derrick Williams at No. 2 in 2011 and Solomon Hill at No. 23 last year — and will pick up another Thursday if Gordon goes, as expected, somewhere between No. 3 and No. 10.
Not surprisingly, those draft picks have corresponded with the best seasons yet under Miller. Williams led the still-rebuilding Wildcats to a surprise 2011 Elite Eight appearance while Johnson and Gordon helped Arizona put together a powerhouse season in 2013-14.
The Wildcats pulled off a school-record 21-0 start, spent eight straight weeks atop the national Top 25 polls, and came within a bucket of the Final Four against Wisconsin despite losing a key starter in Ashley for the final two months.
“Especially this year, where you can put us in the category of being one of the great teams at this university, those guys obviously had a lot to do with it,” Miller said after Gordon and Johnson declared they would leave UA. But it wasn’t a one-way street, the way Johnson and Gordon described their UA experiences.
“He kept the mental aspect of my game right,” Gordon said of Miller during a recent Time Warner interview. “Every time I needed to talk to him, he would come to me and tell me, ‘All you need to do is be Aaron Gordon.’ That’s all he would tell me and it really solidified my thinking.
“And to have somebody who has my back and thinks the same thing I do helps mentally with my confidence.”
Johnson, who improved steadily over his three seasons into the Pac-12 Player of the Year last season, also credited Miller after a workout in Sacramento.
“He was the best coach for me,” Johnson said. “He installed some confidence in me that showed this past year in a bunch of games. That’s the biggest thing I’ll take from him.”