It was an exciting year for Arizona basketball fans. In the eyes of many observers, the Wildcats returned to the ranks of the elite by winning the Pac-12 conference crown, defeating Duke and reaching the Elite Eight, and also reeling in the nation's number one recruiting class.
Head coach Sean Miller has been able to turn UA basketball around very quickly and has been able to build arguably more momentum for his program than any other coach in the country over the past 12 months.
In a year where the city of Tucson and Arizona fans across the country regained their collective passion and optimism for the team, there were plenty of stories to talk about. Here are the top five events regarding the Arizona basketball program in 2011.
5. The Kevin Parrom offseason saga
Parrom was one of the Wildcats most important players during the 2010-11 season. With the departures of Derrick Williams to the NBA and Lamont Jones to a transfer, many expected Parrom to be the next in line to take over the offensive load for UA. That was until an offseason filled with tragedy and drama derailed those expectations.
After losing his grandmother to cancer in August, Parrom already had something emotionally draining on his table. Later he took a trip to New York to visit with his mother – also ill with cancer - in September at her request.
During that trip, Parrom ran into some serious trouble when hanging out with an old female acquaintance. Instead of having a friendly encounter to rehash old memories, Parrom found himself at the wrong end of a gun from a jealous male. He ended up getting shot in the leg, an incident that set Parrom back several months physically. He is currently playing with a bullet fragment lodged above his calf muscle.
If things weren't already bad enough for Parrom, his mother passed away after a two-year battle with cancer on October 16th. Already dealing with the loss of his grandmother and being shot, Parrom was dealt the ultimate blow when he lost his mother.
Still, Parrom keeps on playing through all of it. He arrived back on court quicker than anticipated and while his game is still progressing back to where it was at the end of the 2010-11 season, he is steadily improving as each game passes.
Parrom will be needed on the court more as the season continues, but his presence alone has provided inspiration for the rest of the team.
One thing that Sean Miller and his staff have continued to prove is that they can recruit. That was proven once again in 2011 as Miller continued to pull in top-ranked prospects.
The 2011 class featured Josiah Turner, Nick Johnson, Angelo Chol and Sidiki Johnson. The group was ranked in the top-10 in the nation by many publications and is a big reason why there are high expectations for Arizona in the very near future. While one recruit has left the team and the remaining three have produced mixed results, there is still plenty of optimism surrounding the trio that remains.
The 2012 class is where Miller and company really flexed their collective muscles. UA landed elite-level prospects in Grant Jerrett, Gabe York, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski – which has netted the Wildcats the top rated class in the nation. Not only that, but Arizona is still in the driver's seat to land highly-touted guard Amedeo Della Valle.
The run the Wildcats made in the tournament in 2011 certainly created a lot of hype for the program. That has served Miller and his staff well as they continue to take advantage of what they created over the previous two seasons. As long as the Wildcats continue to stay successful, recruiting should continue to remain at an elite level.
3. Derrick Williams
There wasn't a player in college basketball last season whose NBA Draft stock sky-rocketed as much as Williams' did. As a freshman, Williams was mostly a post player reluctant to take his game outside. In 2010-11, he proved to be one of the best long-distance shooters in the country.
The added range on his shot allowed Williams to develop into one of the most deadly players in college basketball. He shot nearly 60 percent from beyond the arc while continuing to find ways to consistently get to the free throw line.
Arizona made its deepest run in the NCAA Tournament since 2005 and that was mainly due to what Williams brought to the court. His continuous hard work and dedication showed in his play as he willed his teammates through the tournament. Williams' 25-point first half performance against Duke was the only reason the Wildcats were able to stay within striking distance of the Blue Devils.
The impending NBA lockout made it uncertain that Williams would return. Many highly-regarded prospects were pulling their names from the pool and Williams saw that as an opportunity to take advantage of. The gamble paid off as Williams went second overall to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Replacing Williams has proven to be very difficult for UA, but it has managed relatively well thus far. His impact on the program in 2011 rivals some of the Wildcats' greats that came years before he stepped on campus.
2. Arizona wins the Pac-10
Just a year removed from being left out of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a quarter-century, Arizona rebounded nicely and came away with the regular season conference crown. The Wildcats were expected to be an improved bunch, but the rate at which they improved caught many observers completely off guard.
Williams was the obvious big reason for the team's on-court success. His contribution to the team was simply unmatched. He created problems for the opposition as he appeared to be unstoppable at times, but the job his supporting cast did simply can't go unmentioned.
From Lamont Jones and Kevin Parrom to Kyle Fogg and Jesse Perry, UA received contributions from all over. Many referred to Arizona as a one-man team with Williams, but without the rest of the squad, the Wildcats do not make the run at the conference title like they did.
The Pac-10 championship also legitimized Arizona as one of the elite teams in the conference. While the team did lose both Williams and Jones in the offseason, the program should be able to continue to build off of the title. Coming away with the conference crown made UA arguably the most attractive basketball destination on the west coast.
1. Arizona defeats defending national champion Duke to advance to Elite Eight
Wildcats' fans had been waiting for this opportunity for a decade. Duke's victory over Arizona in the 2001 title game still resonated among the UA fan-base and many saw the matchup as a chance at redemption for what transpired 10 years prior.
UA got off to a rough start as Williams was the only player that looked ready to play from the start of the game. The Wildcats' star ended the first 20 minutes with 25 points and kept his squad within six points at the half. The second half was all about the players around Williams as the team woke up and stuck it to Duke, outscoring the Blue Devils 55-33.
Arizona won the game by 16 and while the Wildcats' tournament would come to a conclusion the following game against Connecticut, defeating Duke put a huge charge back into the fan-base. The way the Wildcats picked apart Duke in the second half caught the eye of the college basketball world and showed that UA is ready to jump back into the group of elite college basketball programs.
Top five basketball stories of 2011
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