Conversation with The Arizona Daily Star's Bruce Pascoe

Conversation with The Arizona Daily Star's Bruce Pascoe

Off-the-court issues plagued Arizona last season. On the court, the Wildcats suffered a disappointing loss in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Buffalo. The Arizona Daily Star's Bruce Pascoe weighs in on a new-look Arizona team — one Illinois could meet in the Maui Invitational — that will try to right the ship in 2018-19:

Have there been any lasting repercussions to the program as a whole, even just perception wise, following last year's arrest and firing of Book Richardson and then allegations against Sean Miller?

No question. It significantly set back recruiting, in that their 2018 class was ultimately much less talented than it was probably going to be without the investigation, and it also may have hurt with 2019 players, although it is hard to tell that yet. The fact that more programs have been pulled into the investigation is probably helping their recruiting. As far as perception locally, it's a mixed bag, but many people are waiting to see how the facts shake out.

Who do you see stepping into bigger roles after Arizona lost all five starters?

Sophomore wing Brandon Randolph could be the team's leading scorer. He showed a lot of offensive skill and aggressiveness in the preseason and early season last year, especially when Rawle Alkins was out with a broken foot. But like most of Arizona's reserves, their role shrank as the year went on because Sean Miller relied heavily on his starters. Whether they can make a big leap from that limited experience is probably the most important key to this year's team.

Emmanuel Akot is another sophomore who could make a big jump. He reclassified to 2017 and it was hard for him to carve out a role on a pretty loaded team as an 18-year-old, so he averaged only 10.4 minutes and didn't play in four games because of knee tendinitis and his struggles on the court. Chase Jeter, a five-star player out of high school who struggled at Duke in part because of a back issue, also has a wide-open opportunity to impact this team greatly.

What do you make of the 2018 recruiting class Arizona was able to put together after things mostly fell apart with the initial group last fall?

That was probably the best case scenario in the spring you could ask for considering what happened. They were headed for a top-three class last fall before the federal investigation came out. That eventually cost them all three of their commits, and several other five-star prospects they had a very good shot at (such as Oregon's Bol Bol) backed off. They did get guard Brandon Williams back in May, however.

They also went out and recruited an athletic guard who was still available in Devonaire Doutrive, found another wing player in Belgium (Omar Thielemans) and pulled in a couple of grad transfers in Pitt forward Ryan Luther and Samford guard Justin Coleman. Finding grad transfers was ideal for them because they needed help and experience right away, and a grad transfer probably didn't need to be concerned about the investigation's effects because they would only be around one year and, if anything ever does translate into an NCAA penalty, it could come down long after they are done.