Arizona producing more hoop talent

The state of Arizona has always been good to the Wildcat basketball program. Many of the best players in the Lute Olson era have come in-state. The only problem is that high quality basketball players have been few and far between in the state. Well, until now.

The Wildcats appear to have offered Phoenix-area wing Brendan Lavender. Lavender has long listed the Cats as his favorite, and a commitment could be coming soon. If he does indeed commit to the Wildcats, he would be the third Arizonan to commit to the Wildcats in three years. In the 20+ seasons before that, the Wildcats have only offered seven in-state players, six of whom committed to the Wildcats.

Of the six, four played in the NBA and three of them are currently in the league. Sean Elliott, Mike Bibby, Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye all stayed in-state and went on to do big things professionally.

There were only two slip-ups. Sunnyside product Deron Johnson never cracked the rotation and wound up transferring to a D-II school. Phoenix big man Dion Broom was the lone recruit in the 1997 class but never got his academics in order and never played a game for the Cats.

The Cats also made a run at a wing named Vegas Davis for the 96 recruiting class. The Lake Havasu product was offered a scholarship early in the process but eventually had the scholarship offer pulled and wound up being a non-factor at Tennessee.

Just seven players in 20+ seasons and all of the sudden they offer three in the past two years. What is going on?

Frankly, Phoenix is becoming a much better at developing high major talent. More and more players are starting to get big time opportunities. Since 2002 14 Arizonans have received high major scholarships and the 2008 class already has four players with Pac-10 offers. Every year there seems to be more and more quality in-state players and the Wildcats have gotten the best of them.

In 2002 Matt Haryasz and Bryson Kruger accepted scholarships to play at Stanford and Vanderbilt. Haryasz went on to have a all-Pac-10 career, while Kruger transferred to ASU but did not get to finish his career after legal troubles. The Wildcats looked at both players, but never offered either. The Wildcats loved Haryasz, but at the time had too many big men on the roster at the time.

2003 and 2004 saw players go to Boston College, Northwestern and Texas Tech.

The 2005 class was the start of something special. Joey Shaw committed to Indiana, Lawrence Hill to Stanford and Alex Farrer surprised many by signing with LSU. Hill has been an impact player for the Cardinal, while Shaw was a role player off the bench for the Hoosiers. Farrer redshirted his first year and plays spot minutes this past season.

2006 continued the trend. This time four players signed with high major programs. Kevin Coble led Northwestern in scoring, while Kal Bay started 12 games for Colorado. Christian Polk averaged 12 points a game for ASU, finishing just .1 point per game behind team leader Jeff Pendegraf. Gavin Edwards played in over 20 games for UConn, though he was mostly a mop-up player.

Next year not only will the Wildcats have Jerryd Bayless and Zane Johnson, but Harper Kamp will play at Cal and Kendall Wallace will play for UNLV.

The 2008 and 2009 classes look to be solid again. In addition to Lavender, Taylor Rhode has already committed to ASU and Nick Witherill will play for Washington State next year. Marques Coleman is getting a lot of Pac-10 attention. In 2009 PF Colin Borchert appears to be a big time prospect, while Nick Markowich has a chance to be a good player.

So why has Arizona, and specifically Phoenix, suddenly started to produce more high D-I talent? There are a number of factors. First and foremost, it is a population issue. Phoenix has seen an explosion of growth. There are just more people living in the city. In addition to the obvious fact that there are just more kids to choose from, the population explosion means there have been more and better schools built, which mean there are more places for kids to play basketball.

In recent years there have been better AAU teams available to play for. Teams like the Arizona Magic, Arizona Stars and AZ Rage are just some of the solid programs in the state. Many of the programs have done a very good job cultivating talent early on, getting used to playing on the AAU circuit when they are younger.

There is no doubt that the quality of in-state players have gotten much better the past five seasons or so and it should get even better. Phoenix is still growing and the results of the population boom are just being felt. Many of those who have recently made Phoenix the 6th largest city in America are just now starting families. The full effect on recruiting may not be felt for over a decade. That being said, there is no denying that the Grand Canyon State is producing more and more big time players and right now the Wildcats are reaping the benefits.

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