Arizona’s 2015 recruiting class has the potential to keep head coach Sean Miller’s Pac-12 powerhouse Wildcats afloat after this year.
It is safe to assume that most of Miller’s foundation will depart for the NBA, barring any significant setbacks. That is what makes the 2015 class such a dire year for the reigning Pac-12 Coach of the Year, but if anyone can bring in upper-tier talent to fill a void, it’s Miller.
West Coast Recruiting Analyst Josh Gershon was able to speak with WildcatAuthority.com to give his take on Arizona’s early commits and the top prospects Miller and his staff are still pushing for.
Allonzo Trier- Committed in August
Joseph Duruaku: Do you believe Allonzo Trier moving over to Findlay Prep cemented his commitment to Arizona?
Josh Gershon: No, I do not. I think those things were individual circumstances. I don’t think he went to Findlay Prep because he was going to go to Arizona, nor do I feel he went to Arizona because he’s coming from Findlay Prep. I think it was two different situations that he looked at separately, and they ended up happening at the same time.
Playing at Findlay Prep is going to be a great opportunity for Trier. The great thing about their program is that they are basically doing basketball for a living down there. When you get those hours of hard work to put toward your game, it will prepare you for the collegiate level of basketball.
Findlay Prep is not your typical high school. The players come in college ready. Look at Nick Johnson and how college ready he was when he came in as a freshman, so I think this was the right move for Allonzo.
Duruaku: You briefly touched on Trier coming in ready for the collegiate style of play. I spoke with his future teammate Justin Simon at the Adidas Nations event and Simon said he was excited to play with Trier. From your perspective, how do see Trier, with his high-octane offense, complementing Simon, who is a defensive minded player?
Gershon: It is a perfect combination, and you could really add Ray Smith into the conversation as well due to the fact that Justin can play multiple positions offensively, but for the sake of this discussion let's place Simon at the point guard spot and Ray Smith at the small forward position.
Simon’s versatility is his best asset, but one thing he does not do particularly well is shoot the ball. Ray Smith is a terrific athlete and the strides he’s made as a scorer are commendable, but he still isn’t all the way there yet.
If you were to place someone from the 2015 class in between those two players, it would have been very hard for Arizona to find a better fit than Allonzo Trier. He’s really an almost perfect fit, he shoots the ball extremely well and his scoring mentality is something to marvel at. His scoring ability is what Arizona needed next to Justin Simon and Ray Smith.
Duruaku: Do you think Trier can become the defender Sean Miller needs on the perimeter?
Gershon: Yes. There are certain things to look at when evaluating defensive upside because most high school kids are not great defenders. Very few of them enter college ready to play defense at a high level.
Sean Miller has a complex system on defense and it takes time for freshmen and even some upperclassmen to play defense the way Sean Miller wants it done.
When you are evaluating if a kid can be a good defender for Miller you look at physical ability and his instincts, how’s his feel for the game, how’s his anticipation and stuff like that. Allonzo Trier has all those tools. He’s focused as a scorer right now because he’s always had to be the main source of offense on every team he’s played for.
Watching him, there is no reason to believe he won’t be a good defender. Winning is important to him, and the kids that really want to win realize they have to be great defenders and Allonzo Trier should not have any problems learning Arizona’s defensive system.
Ray Smith - Committed in July
Duruaku: Ray Smith has been actively tweeting his recovery process after he suffered a torn ACL. Is it safe to assume that he will miss his senior season?
Gershon: He’s obviously doing what he can to speed up the recovery process. The good thing about the ACL injury is that it is something that kids are bouncing back from at a fast rate. I am not sure when he will be able to make it back.
It is safe to assume that Smith will be cautious during his recovery and Arizona will want him to be cautious, too. But on the same token, I am sure Smith wants to make the McDonald’s game to prove that he is the same prospect that he was before the injury.
I’m just speculating, no one knows for sure, but it’s a safe assumption.
Duruaku: We are hoping for a full recovery for Smith, but coming into the 2015 season at Arizona, he will likely have been away from competitive basketball for about a year. Do you think Sean Miller would be able to use him at full capacity from the beginning or would he have to ease him in?
Gershon: You never really know. The injury does not help how ready Smith would be as a freshman, but you never truly know how ready any freshman is going to be anyway. You can see the development of Aaron Gordon from last year. In a lot of ways, he was not ready right away-keep in mind the type of talent he is. We did not really see the full Aaron Gordon until about February and so on.
Bottom line: it takes everyone a different rate of time to come into his own.
Justin Simon- Committed in MayDuruaku: At Adidas Nations, Justin Simon said he envisions himself as more of a T.J. McConnell player while Allonzo Trier does the scoring like Nick Johnson did. Do you agree?
Gershon: I said earlier that Simon’s best attribute is his versatility. He can play different positions on both ends of the floor; it’s unique and extremely valuable. Look at Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, he’s obviously a small forward, but the fact that he can play and defend multiple spots on the floor is why he was on the court all the time for Arizona.
Simon can play the point guard position, he’s unselfish and he’s a great passer. If you ask him to score, his body control is absolutely elite. He can put the ball on the floor, take two dribbles and elude multiple defenders and he can do the same thing from the shooting guard and small forward positions.
Defensively he can easily guard three spots. Smaller, quicker point guards might be a challenge for him early on, but as he becomes a better defender through coaching he might be able to do that.
Now if you asked is there one spot where he will come in and be a T.J. McConnell type of player right away, I would say no, but he has so much talent that with coaching and working hard Miller will find a way to get him on the court.
Duruaku: Ivan Rabb is a very good power forward prospect coming out of California. I was recently told that Rabb has slightly backed off Arizona, and he did not mention the Wildcats in one of his most recent interviews. The feeling is that he does not like how everyone assumes he is just all Arizona, he’s stressed multiple times that his recruitment is open and fair and that he’s giving his favorites an equal look. Where does Rabb stand with Arizona right now?
Gershon: Rabb is a kid that showed up on the national scene as a freshman, and when people first saw this kid it was very clear that he was an elite prospect. A lot of people that have talked to him have been saying an Arizona-Rabb pairing is a sure fire thing. He’s had three years of telling people that his recruitment is legitimate and that he’s open to everyone.
When you have a lot of big schools saying Rabb is going to Arizona, it makes him feel like he should do what he wants, and I think that’s hurt Arizona some.
It’s not a hurdle that cannot be overcome, but it’s definitely an obstacle and Arizona has spent a considerable amount of time trying to. I think there’s this perception that Arizona is going to land Rabb because of Miller’s success in recruiting California prospects over the last two years, but that’s not the case. It has never been a lock and it's far from that now.
Duruaku: It’s been rumored that Ivan Rabb’s mom wants him to stay in California, so how heavily are UCLA and Cal involved in Rabb’s recruitment?
Gershon: Rabb’s mom wanting him to stay home is not a surprise. Nine out of 10 moms want their kids to stay close to home.
Cal, for a lot of reasons, is like a perfect storm. They have a new coach that will do a great job recruiting, especially local kids. He’s a motivating guy with a great story. Ivan Rabb, being a Bay Area kid, would probably mean he’d be excited about a coach like Cuonzo Martin.
If Rabb did decide to leave home then you look at the schools like Georgetown, Kentucky and North Carolina, but staying in California is a serious option for Rabb.
Duruaku: Arizona has really pushed hard for Chance Comanche, but I was told that he may not want to be in a limited role right away, so programs like UConn and Arizona State are in the mix more than people realize. Do you think the possibility of Comanche being a project would move him away from Arizona?
Gershon: The thing with Comanche is that he’s either ready or he’s not; it doesn’t matter where he goes. His skill set has come along nicely, but he needs to get a lot stronger. If he’s ready, he can come into any program and work well, but if he isn’t then he won’t produce much from the start.
It’s a matter of him continuing to develop and becoming better as a player and we’ve seen it, so we know it’s there. Once he gets stronger and keeps working on his game, he will be able to produce, but like I said about Ray Smith, it really depends on how a player takes in coaching and adapts to the college level.
Obviously there’s a lot of places that need post players, but it’s on Comanche to put the work in and I think he can be productive anywhere.
Duruaku: Zimmerman has made it clear that he wants to take all his visits and give everyone an equal look. With some unknowns floating around with Arizona’s big-man situation for 2015, do you think Sean Miller can successfully land Stephen Zimmerman?
Gershon: I think it should be said that UNLV, Kansas and UCLA have done a great job of recruiting Zimmerman for a long time. Arizona is entering his recruitment relatively later than the other schools.
There’s a natural advantage that the other programs have that I don’t think Arizona has at this point. I don’t see Zimmerman as someone that is likely to go to Arizona, but he’s been receptive to them and whenever you get a kid on campus, it increases your chances.
They can try to make up ground and increase their chances, but as of today I would not say Arizona is ahead of those three schools.
Duruaku: There’s always uncertainty with recruiting, and in my opinion it’s starting to look like Arizona might not get the class that it originally looked like they would. What are your thoughts about their chances with their undecided prospects?
Gershon: Justin Simon, a combo guard at the one, Allonzo Trier at the two and Ray Smith at the three. You can also plug in Ryan Anderson and say he’s the starting four if Rabb does not commit and for the sake of the question we can say Comanche commits and he’s the five.
That’s an elite class, it is a very good class with three top-25 guys and Comanche is a top 50 player. Keep in mind that Ryan Anderson had a great showing in the ACC. Sean Miller has put together great classes and he’d be hard-pressed to find another as good as the 2015 class if it pans out that way.