For the first time in three recruiting classes --- now that Arizona’s old NCAA sanctions have finally worn off -- Sean Miller can offer the full complement of 13 scholarships to the class of 2013.
Yet that’s exactly what he probably doesn't want to do. Not when guys like Angelo Chol and Grant Jerrett are taking off early every year, fleeing a roster crowded with talent.
At least that’s the way Miller described it during his end-of-spring news conference today at McKale Center, when Damon Stoudamire was formally introduced as an assistant coach and the transfer of ex-Kansas big man Zach Peters was announced.
“For us to carry 13 scholarship players isn’t as smart now as it once was,” Miller said. “When you have a number of different people that are looking to do things, carrying less is probably more healthy for a program, so that you can deliver on those expectations and at the same time you can still be very honest and forthright in the recruiting, so that everybody understands it is a competitive environment and that everybody can be judged by the same standards.”
Possible translation: depth is great but … nobody wants to be a role player anymore (and neither do those players’ families and advisors).
So less may be more.
“Just because you have the number 13, I don’t know if that’s as important as it once was,” Miller said. “To me it’s more intelligent that anyone you add to your program has to be a contributor and there has to be a reason you do it. You don’t want to just fill in the scholarship void to add depth. That’s not going to work because that person you’re talking about will end up leaving for sure.”
With Peters’ addition, UA still has two remaining openings for the class of 2013 (and umpteen openings for 2014 if you figure the amount of possible early departures next spring). Miller said there’s a chance Arizona won’t add any more scholarship players for 2013, unless a suitable fit pops up over the summer.
“There’s a chance there will be 50-75 more transfers this summer from across the country,” Miller said. “If that happens and the right one would be there then certainly we have an available scholarship. But I’m not necessarily looking at this point. I feel good about who we have returning and I’m excited about the ones that will be here as part our future.”
Some other items worth noting from Miller’s joint news conference with Stoudamire (which was also attended by AD Greg Byrne and former coach Lute Olson):
—Miller said UA has looked deeply into Peters’ injury and concussion history, and that Peters’ family has done its own work, leading him to have confidence Peters will be able to play fully.
“I’m excited to add Zach," Miller said. "We didn’t know much about Zach a month or two ago and that was because we had things in place. When Grant declared and Angelo decided to leave, obviously from a depth perspective we looked around and said, `Is there someone out there that can fill that void and be a part of what we’re trying to accomplish here?’ We’re very fortunate.
“Timing is everything and in this case it really worked out. Zach Peters is someone Kansas recruited and got hit with a number of early injuries and I think any freshmen who deal with that many injuries in a short period of time, you can see why he moved on to be healthy.
“Now that he’s healthy, he gained in his mind that thirst to be a college basketball player and it just so happened that the timing of that coincided with us and we couldn’t have added a more quality player for what we need.”
Miller said he couldn't say if Peters would be able to get a waiver to play next season but said that “I certainly think he has a case.”
-- Miller said he provided Jerrett with “a little” counsel over whether to turn professional but that Jerrett already had a strong support system advising him.
“Initially I was surprised but that’s all part of it when you recruit a very talented young player,” Miller said. “Each of those guys has their own goals and information that is out there is sometimes more or less relevant to them.
"In Grant’s perspective, he felt he was ready to make that climb to be an NBA player. I have no doubt he has the talent to do it … My goal now is for him to become the highest pick that he possibly can become. He was invited to (the NBA combine in) Chicago, which is a great sign and from all indications he’s playing well there.”
When asked if Jerrett can make an NBA roster or start his career elsewhere, Miller said: “I don’t know. A lot of it will depend on how he performs from this point forward. One thing that Grant has to his advantage is he has a true position. He can play the four; he’s a very skilled, he’s long and his best basketball is ahead of him for sure.”
-- Miller said he wasn’t surprised to hear about Chol’s decision to leave, even though Miller said during the season that Chol told him not to worry about him as far as his playing time and happiness was concerned.
“I would like to keep all of our guys here for four years,” Miller said. “That’s the goal when we recruit them, to keep them with us as long as we can unless they’re a first round pick.
“But Angelo, in the first two years he didn’t play a whole lot and as he looked forward the future he still saw himself in a crowd. He’s going to a program (SDSU) where maybe he has an opportunity to start and play the whole game.”
-- Miller said he decided not to “join the chorus of coaches and people who complain” about the high turnover rate in college basketball players.
“From our perspective we’re trying to find a solution to it," he said. "You have to make sure the expectations of the young person or family are a reality to what we have for them here at Arizona. But the quest of recruiting good people, who want a college degree, who want to be a part of something bigger than themselves that will not change. It’s just that it’s very fluid.”
-- Miller said he hired Stoudamire not because of his UA playing accomplishments but because of what he offers as a coach.
“Obviously, Damon was a great player and a difference maker in our program’s history and his pro career speaks even louder with the success he’s had. But from my perspective it’s about building the best program at the University of Arizona and if you’re looking to hire a coach there are a lot of qualities you look for that have nothing to do with how good a player you were.
“Some of the great players weren’t good coaches, some of the best coaches in the game weren’t very good players. But no matter who I’ve talked to, the words that keep coming to mind is he has an incredible burning desire and love for the game of basketball as a player and as a coach.”