Verdejo brings toughness and talent to UA

Arizona goes international again. The Wildcats added another piece of their 2004 recruiting class by adding Puerto Rican wing Jesus Verdejo. Verdejo joins Australian Daniel Dillon and Mohamed Tangara of Mali in a class that is uncharacteristically full of foreign players. Verdejo's coach Art Alvarez says that Arizona has added a good one.

"He's a big time player," says Alvarez who coached Verdejo with the Miami Tropics AAU team and at Miami Christian High School. "Competition-wise he can compete against anybody."

In fact Verdejo proved on his recruiting visit that he could play with his future teammates. Verdejo showcased his skills in a pick-up game at McKale Center. Verdejo showed that he is very athletic and has a lot of skills. He hit a number of outside shots, yet also showed off his passing skills. Alvarez was not surprised to hear how well Verdejo played.

"I heard he was lighting up everybody today," Alvarez said.

Verdejo's path to Arizona was one full of twists and turns. A native of Puerto Rico, Verdejo played high school ball at Christian High in Miami, Fla. and won a state championship with the Victors.

He originally signed with Temple out of high school but was not admitted to the school and chose to attend The Winchendon School, a prep school near Boston. Verdejo led the school to the NEPSAC championship and Winchendon was ranked as the second best prep school in the nation by the analysts at The Insiders.

"He's a winner," Alvarez said. "He won a state championship for me last year and a championship this year at prep school."

Everyone who has seen Verdejo play describes him as tough. Alvarez echoes those sentiments.

"He's a very tough kid," Alvarez said. "He's the nicest kid off the court. He's very mature."

Verdejo was a golden gloves boxer before deciding to play basketball full time and takes some of that fighter's attitude with him on the court. Some have likened him to Hassan Adams and those comparisons seem fitting.

"He's a warrior on the inside," Alvarez explained. "He's a leader. He's not afraid to get on guys when they need it. He's very athletic and tough minded. He's a kid that will pay immediate dividends."

Verdejo arrived in Tucson on Sunday and pulled the trigger before he left. He was seriously leaning towards the Wildcats before he got into town and quickly knew this was the place he wanted to play.

"He really wants to play for coach Olson," Alvarez said. "He likes the style of play and the fact that coach Olson plays his freshmen. I told him ‘this is the place you need to be'. He likes the style of play, the coach, the players, it just made sense to commit now."

By all accounts Verdejo is perfect for the Wildcat system. He's athletic, tough and loves to get up and down the court. Alvarez believes that despite an abundance of perimeter players, Verdejo can come in and play right away.

"He loves transition play," Alvarez said. "He runs the court, he can shoot it, he's very athletic. He's a big time player who just wants the opportunity to play. He can make a difference."

Not only has Verdejo played at the highest high school and prep school level, but he has competed internationally as well. He's played for the Puerto Rican Junior National Team, which has really aided his development.

"He's played against the best players in the world," Alvarez said. "He's played against guys like J.J. Reddick and Dee Brown. He's been through that international circuit. He's seen a lot more than just 40 games at the high school level."

It becomes apparent after speaking with Alvarez that he thinks the world of Verdejo. If just a fraction of the praise he has heaped upon the young wing is true, then Arizona fans will soon have a very similar opinion of the newest Wildcat.

CAT TRACKS' ANALYSIS: Verdejo was recruited as an insurance policy in case players leave over the next two seasons, but both he and the coaches expect that he will compete with the returning players. While Verdejo is being counted on for 2005 and beyond, he is too talented to not be in the mix. His attitude alone will be important to the program.

The Insiders' Jeff Goodman feels that he is probably the best player available that the Cats could have landed. Other than maybe Malik Hairston, he was probably the best wing left in the class.

His commitment officially ends the Wildcats' 2004 recruiting class. The Cats have no more scholarships to give, even if a player leaves the program. With scholarships given to Ivan Radenovic and Beau Muhlbach, the Cats cannot give any more scholarships under the 8/5 rule. There is a chance the rule could be revoked in April, but as of now the Cats are done.

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