basketball Edit

Evans Seven: Arizona's rebirth and other spring surprises

Much has happened since Jay Wright was last seen cutting down the nets in San Antonio. In this week’s Evans Seven, we rehash the past six weeks, encapsulating the seven biggest surprises within the sport this spring.

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Sean Miller
Sean Miller (AP)

The tombstone engraved with RIP next to Sean Miller’s name at Arizona? That can be put away as the Wildcats have come out swinging this spring. Arizona has hushed all of the criticism that was thrown their way in light of the FBI investigation into the sport and, even further, media speculation that Miller had been caught on wiretap discussing a pay-for-play scam regarding DeAndre Ayton.

Many believed the Arizona administration may find a way to get rid of Miller; others believed that Miller would jump ship for a cozier situation. Instead, Miller remained and showed just how good he is at his job, reeling in two graduate-transfers that will immediately contribute in Tucson, before nabbing the pledges of European forward Omar Thielemans and Rivals150 wing Devonaire Doutrive.

The biggest eye-opener for the Wildcats came when they beat out Gonzaga and Oregon for Brandon Williams, a one-time pledge to the program and a top-50 guard in the 2018 class. Arizona is not back to where it was a year ago, but Miller and his staff have shown the gusto that they will have another seat at the table as to who runs the Pac-12 Conference.


He wasn’t gone in the first place, but many thought that the don of Lexington was slipping on the recruiting trail after Duke finished with consecutive top classes.

Think again as Kentucky and John Calipari made a giant statement this spring with the commitments of four high school prospects, three coming in the five-star variety. DJ Jeffries was the first to get the momentum headed in their direction, but it was the consecutive day commitments of EJ Montgomery and Ashton Hagans that put the rest of the country on notice. Many saw the Hagans commitment coming but by Montgomery choosing Kentucky with a crowded frontcourt over Duke, UNC and a slew of others, Calipari showed that his mojo is still there.

A few weeks later, Tyrese Maxey, a five-star guard from Texas, chose the blue blood over a handful of brand name programs, further solidifying Kentucky’s chances of national title aspirations in the years ahead.


Jay Wright has created a monster of a program on the Main Line, relying on a system of fit, development and character. Roster continuity has been key and while Omari Spellman and Donte DiVincenzo’s future at Villanova remain up in the air, Wright and his staff have relied on their meticulous recruiting efforts to land and then develop talent into three and four-year contributors.

The transfer market has not been one that has been touched much by the Wildcats, though they did add Fordham forward Eric Paschall two years ago and without him, would have had issues securing a national title last month.

However, Wright did something that he has never on the Main Line, that is taking a graduate-transfer in the form of Joe Cremo. Cremo averaged over 17 points last season with Albany and made 76 three-pointers. Not a giant surprise if he were to pledge to anyone else, but for the Wildcats to take the New Yorker, the times have changed some.


Jeff Capel
Jeff Capel (AP)

Mike Krzyzewski has lost some of his top assistants in recent years when Chris Collins and Steve Wojciechowski left for the top gigs of their own. However, Jeff Capel’s decision to depart as Coach K’s right-hand man for the Pittsburgh gig, a team that was winless in the ACC last season, was a bit of a surprise to most.

Capel’s decision to take the opportunity allotted at Pitt compared to other opportunities at Arizona State and Georgia Tech raised a few eyebrows. Since then, Capel has hit the ground running after scooping up Rivals150 guard Trey McGowens and also three-star playmaker Xavier Johnson.

The idea that Capel would wait things out and slide a seat over upon Coach K’s retirement was often floated, but here things stand now and Capel is in Pittsburgh, attempting to enjoy some of the success that he reaped in Durham.

How Capel does as a head coach, where he previously led Oklahoma and VCU to NCAA Tournament appearances during his second year on the job, bears watching. If he can do the same in Pittsburgh, a stature might be erected in front of the Petersen Events Center.


Jordan Brown
Jordan Brown (Courtesy of Adidas)

Questions remain regarding Nevada’s outlook for the 2018-2019 seasons as Cody Martin, Caleb Martin and Jordan Caroline have kept their names in the NBA Draft, though they have until May 30 to return as they have yet to hire an agent.

Fresh off of an Elite Eight run and its second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, Nevada may just be getting started. Eric Musselman has built one of the sturdiest programs west of the Rocky Mountains, but it has been his reliance on traditional transfers that have made Nevada what it is. That has changed in recent months and it culminated with the rather surprising decision of Jordan Brown, a five-star big man, to pick the Wolf Pack over Arizona, UCLA, Cal and Oregon.

Is Brown a one-and-done prospect? That is up for debate, but the fact that Musselman can now go head-to-head with the basketball’s goliaths on the recruiting front and not have to land premier talent the second time around on the transfer market reflects just how far the program has come in recent years.


The one-and-done rule is on unstable ground and while others like Thon Maker and Anfernee Simons made the leap to the NBA without jotting out onto a college playing floor, Darius Bazley made the unprecedented decision to join the NBA G-League.

Not a full year removed from his high school’s graduation like Maker or Simons, the five-star passed on spending a year at Syracuse. Many believed, including yours truly, that Bazley’s fit within the Orange’s system was ideal. He is a rangy wing-forward that could cause havoc within the vaunted 2-3 Syracuse zone, while having loads of offensive opportunities thanks to the likely NBA departure of Tyus Battle.

Instead, Bazley decided that he wanted to be a trailblazer of sorts, though it does not understate the surprise within many corners of the business regarding his decision. While the idea of many others following may be put to bed quickly with the one-and-done rule on shaky ground, many eyes will be remain on Bazley and how he fairs going up against grown men within the NBA G-League in a few months.


Joey Baker
Joey Baker (Kelly Kline/Under Armour)

Duke added the commitment of junior forward Joey Baker last fall and by all signs, the top-50 prospect was more than comfortable remaining in his original class and enrolling in Durham for the 2019 fall semester.

That changed this spring with his surprising reclassification as he will be on next season’s Duke roster, one that will be bolstered by four five-star freshmen. While Baker will receive the least amount of the spotlight, playing fifth fiddle next to RJ Barrett, Tre Jones, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish, Baker will be the best shooter in the group.

Just like last season, Duke faced questions surrounding how they might be able to keep defenses honest with its perimeter shooting. While Baker might not receive enormous amounts of playing time, he does provide a shooting dynamic along with some versatility in the frontcourt in being used at either forward position that, if used properly, could be the X-factor for Duke’s national title aspirations next season.