While putting the final touches on their 2016 recruiting class, the Arizona Wildcats didn’t have to leave campus for a major pickup Monday.
Allonzo Trier, the Wildcats’ third-leading scorer this season, opted to return for his sophomore year instead of leaving for the NBA Draft, or at least testing his value in it.
While Trier might have faced tough odds to get into the 2016 NBA Draft’s first round, where two-year contracts are guaranteed, that hasn’t stopped several Wildcats from leaving early in past seasons.
Arizona lost six players to pro ball early over the previous three seasons, with two of them (Nick Johnson and Grant Jerrett) going in the second round, while Brandon Ashley was not drafted last season. None of those three are currently in the NBA.
Trier is ranked No. 76 on Draft Express’ list of Top 100 prospects and the scouting-based website projects him going No. 34 (the fourth pick in the second round) in the 2017 draft. NBADraft.net has Trier going No. 23 in the first round in 2017.
With an improved sophomore season, Trier might be able to assure himself of a first-round selection in 2017.
As a freshman this season, Trier already established his ability to get to the rim, pick up fouls and convert free throws at a 79.3-percent rate but he can improve on areas such as three-point shooting (36.4 percent) and his defense.
“I am really excited about the quest to become a more complete player,” Trier said in a UA statement. “I am also excited to develop as a leader and to lock arms with my teammates while competing for championships. I love being at the University of Arizona and can’t wait for next season to begin.”
Saying he was “ecstatic” over Trier’s return, UA coach Sean Miller indicated Trier has plenty to gain as a sophomore. Named to the Pac-12’s all-freshman team this season, Trier will be a candidate for all-league next season and maybe more.
Trier’s return also could help the Wildcats make the kind of deep NCAA tournament run they were not able to this season. UA lost to Wichita State in the first round when Trier scored 10 points on 4-for-12 shooting.
“I believe he will become one of college basketball’s elite players next season,” Miller said. “During our conversations, Allonzo shared his desire to be a leader on a championship team and to improve his overall game.
“By doing so, he puts himself in the best position possible for a very successful NBA future. I have not been around a player that works harder at the game or loves it more than he does. It’s this passion to be great that has all of us excited about our future together.”
After scoring an average of 14.8 points this season, Trier will be the Wildcats’ top returning scorer next season.
Although he broke his hand at USC on Jan. 9, keeping him out for seven conference games, Trier finished third among league freshmen in scoring and was named to the conference’s all-freshman team.
Trier will be one of two returning Arizona starters along with guard Kadeem Allen, while the Wildcats are also expected to return point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright, forward Ray Smith and centers Dusan Ristic and Chance Comanche.
That gives UA at least six returning scholarship players overall — seven if forward Elliott Pitts returns — while the Wildcats also have three freshmen-to-be lined up in forward Lauri Markkanen of Finland, guard Kobi Simmons of Georgia and wing Rawle Alkins of New York.
Arizona has at least three additional scholarship openings for next season. The Wildcats are still chasing five-star high school seniors Josh Jackson and Terrance Ferguson, plus four-star power forward Taurean Thompson, while they have also expressed interest in transfers Kory Holden of Delaware and Dylan Osetkowski of Tulane.
The spring signing period will begin on April 13, while Ferguson and Jackson have indicated they will announce their choices sometime this month. Pitts’ status remains uncertain after he left the team in February for an unspecified reason.
• Markkanen has pulled out of Saturday’s Hoop Summit game, USA Basketball confirmed Monday. He told Scout that he hasn’t been able to train properly because of illness. Markkanen was scheduled to play for the World team against a USA Basketball team that includes Jackson and Ferguson.
• Arizona’s neutral-site, Hall of Fame-promoted game with Gonzaga next season has been set for Dec. 3 at Los Angeles’ Staples Center. The Wildcats’ other big nonconference games include facing Michigan State in Hawaii, playing at Missouri and hosting New Mexico.