Tibet Gorener grew up across the globe from Arizona and hadn’t talked to the Wildcats until this spring. Because of the coronavirus, the Turkish forward couldn’t even visit Tucson or McKale Center.
No problem. This is the basketball world, after all, a place where the Wildcats’ many connections can make everything seem pretty small.
Before Gorener became the Wildcats’ latest commitment on Monday night, the web around him looked like this:
On his phone often was David Miller, the Wildcats’ acting assistant coach, who had known him previously while recruiting Gorener for UC Santa Barbara.
- On the international basketball stage facing him at times were guys such as Estonian point guard Kerr Kriisa and French forward Daniel Batcho. Both committed to the Wildcats just before he did.
- On the floor coaching him last season at California’s Orange Lutheran was Daniel Dunbar, a former teammate of former UA guard Gabe York at the same school, where York is still regarded as a legend.
- On his computer screen often when he streamed Turkish basketball games last season was Derrick Williams, the former Arizona star now playing for Fenerbahce, a well-regarded Turkish club in Gorener’s hometown of Istanbul.
“He’s one of the best players,” Gorener said. “He’s really good. He’s dominating.”
UA coach Sean Miller took it from there. Gorener said Miller talked about Williams and his former Xavier players now in Turkey, while also showing Gorener highlights of how he’s used bigger wing players at Arizona.
“He’s a really good coach and his playing style fits me,” Gorener said of Miller by phone Tuesday from his current home in Anaheim, California. “I think he can really take my game to the next level, teaching me how to play defense and getting me stronger, taking care of my weaknesses. I just realized Arizona was the best place to do that.”
David Miller (no relation to Sean Miller) helped piece it all together by building on the relationship he had with Gorener while working as UCSB’s director of basketball operations during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons.
Gorener considered UCSB, coached by former UA associate head coach Joe Pasternack, but said he wasn’t able to meet University of California system admissions standards.
Instead, Gorener said he considered Arizona and Creighton at the end. It helped that the Wildcats had just promoted David Miller to acting assistant coach earlier this month after Justin Gainey left to become Marquette’s associate head coach.
That meant David Miller could participate in all the usual recruiting activities except those temporarily banned because of the coronavirus. He and Gorener stayed in constant touch, and Gorener was formally offered a scholarship last week.
By Monday, Gorener decided to pounce on it.
“I didn’t really have a set date in my mind when I was going to make a decision but I just made it when I felt comfortable,” Gorener said. “I’ve been talking to coach David Miller for about a month, maybe more. We have a good relationship so that definitely helped.”
At Arizona, Gorener will join Batcho, Kriisa and Canadian forward Benn Mathurin in the international branch of what is essentially now a seven-player 2020 recruiting class.
Arizona also brought in Georgetown transfer James Akinjo, Phoenix freshman Dalen Terry and Seattle U grad transfer Terrell Brown for next season, and could still add another player.
Josh Gershon, a 247Sports.com recruiting analyst who has scouted Gorener both in Europe and California, said the newest Wildcat could wind up playing a specialist role as a bigger shooter right away for Arizona, with the potential to develop into a face-up power forward.
“He’s 6-8, long and a really gifted passer,” Gershon said.
“He’s gonna have to get stronger in order to improve defensively but one of the best things about him is he’s experienced at the international level.
“He was a 6-4 shooting guard when we first saw him. He’s a bigger wing now and a combo forward.”
Gershon said Gorener was particularly impressive while playing for Turkey last summer in the U18 European Championships. In that event, Gorener averaged 8.3 points and 1.3 assists per game while shooting 50% overall and 35% from 3-point range.
“I think my biggest strength is my shooting,” Gorener said. “I definitely feel like I can come off screens and knock down shots from anywhere on the court. I feel like I play with good energy, get up and down the court really well and I have good size.”
Gorener has long known those skills could take him places. He said he played some soccer as a youth but began playing basketball at age 8, then was identified and added to Turkey’s national team program at age 13.
All along, he said, he had an eye on playing college basketball in the United States.
“In Europe, it’s really hard to get educated and play basketball at the same time,” Gorener said. “In America, it’s fairly easy and the schools have really good basketball programs.”
So when Montverde Academy reached out to him to play there in 2018-19, Gorener took the invitation. Then he moved to California to play last season, taking his parents with him this time in an effort to satisfy CIF eligibility rules. (Gorener’s father is retired and his mother works remotely as a professor.)
In his next step at Arizona, Gorener may get it all: education on and off the court, and a chance to play a style he says reminds him of home in some ways.
Gorener said Miller’s teams play with a “really good” offensive structure and the sort of man-to-man defense that he aims to improve in.
“He plays with a very European style, in my opinion,” Gorener said of Miller. “That’s something I’m really used to and really enjoy.
“So that’s why I think it’d be a good fit for me to play at Arizona.”
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