As tip-off to the 2017 NCAA Tournament draws closer, we look at some of the top storylines and how those teams were built through recruiting.
Today: It has been 20 years since Arizona won its lone national championship, and the Wildcats' last Final Four appearance was in 2001. But coach Sean Miller's team enters this tournament with as much depth and talent as anybody in the country.
STEP ONE: DIVERSIFICATION IN RECRUITING
At the beginning of the season Arizona didn’t look like a team for which depth would be a big strength. Redshirt freshman Ray Smith, a former five-star recruit from Las Vegas, sustained his third torn ACL in three years and retired from basketball. On top of that, star sophomore guard Allonzo Trier from Seattle was suspended indefinitely by the NCAA after testing positive for PEDs.
However, thanks to smart recruiting by Miller and his staff that has literally spanned the globe, the Wildcats enter the NCAA Tournament deep and talented.
The Wildcats' best player, 7-foot freshman Lauri Markkanen, hails from Finland, and his sweet three-point shooting and expanding game lead a front line with a decided international flair. Another 7-footer, junior Dusan Rustic, is a former four-star recruit from Serbia and reserve Keanu Pinder – the only Wildcat regular who wasn’t a four- or five-star recruit – is a native of Australia who arrived in Tucson after a stint in junior college.
Pinder isn’t the only junior college contributor; senior guard Kadeem Allen was the junior college player of the year at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College. After redshirting for a year, Allen has developed into an All-Pac-12 level defender.
The rest of the Wildcats' roster features players from California such point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright and big man Chance Comanche. Freshman Kobi Simmons hails from the Atlanta area and freshman Rawle Alkins is from New York by way of a senior year of high school played in North Carolina.
STEP TWO: TRIER SEEKING REDEMPTION
During high school, Seattle native Allonzo Trier was well traveled playing for schools in Oklahoma, Maryland and Las Vegas. The only official he needed before picking a school was his early August trip to Arizona prior to his senior year.
After a strong freshman season it looked as if Trier might be on the move again, as he thought about leaving for the NBA. And after beginning the year on an indefinite suspension from the NCAA, Trier had to have been regretting his decision to come back.
However, since gaining eligibility after sitting for 19 games, Trier has been playing at the highest of levels. He turned it up in the Pac-12 Tournament, winning MVP honors, and his 17.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists have given the Wildcats some needed pop from the perimeter.
No player likes to see his name involved with negative headlines, but Trier’s road to redemption has the Wildcats in a good place.
STEP THREE: FIVE-STAR TURNED TEAM PLAYER
No team comes together without players accepting their roles. But not many would have expected five-star freshman Rawle Alkins to be the one to settle into the role of glue guy who does the little things.
There were never any questions about Alkins' talent as a high school player in New York or North Carolina, but fair or not he had the label of “me-first” player. That perceived selfishness hurt his recruitment. When Arizona beat out UNLV for Alkins' services, there were questions about whether he would be able to handle Miller’s old-school coaching style. They didn’t die down when Alkins left his Word of God team before the completion of his senior season.
While there may have been some bumps early on, Alkins has turned into the consummate team player. He is athletic, he’s tough and he has committed himself to doing the little things. It doesn’t hurt that he’s shot 44.8 percent from three-point land since early December, either.
If Alkins can continue his excellent team play, he could be the X-factor in a potential title run.