With his announcement at the McDonald's All-American game, Aaron Gordon, the fourth-best player in the nation according to ESPN, is now is now an Arizona Wildcat. His commitment shows not only the status of the program, but Sean Miller's continued recruiting prowess as well.
Gordon's commitment also creates a team at Arizona, that like last season has truckloads of talent and high expectations. But unlike last season, Gordon's addition places this Arizona team in a special echelon where there can be no excuses for a less than stellar season.
Last year, the excitement for the Wildcats basketball team started early. With arguably the best recruiting class in the history of the program, along with experienced veteran Mark Lyons, people knew the Wildcats were going to be good. They were ranked inside or near the top-10 in almost all preseason polls.
The season started and Arizona did nothing but win. By the time the Wildcats got to 14-0 and peaked at No. 3 in the nation, the excitement reached a fever pitch. The Pac-12 championship became a foregone conclusion and aspirations of the Final Four and a national title formulated.
Then the Pac-12 season began and the decline set in. They lost four of the last eight regular season conference games, didn’t beat a single bona-fide good team during this same stretch and lost to arch rival UCLA three times.
When all was said and done after the loss to Ohio State in the Sweet-16, it is hard to say the season was not a disappointment for the Wildcats. After the furious start, they just didn’t get it done.
Yet it was understandable. The reasons for the poor play have been well documented. Poor defense, turnovers, sputtering offense and bad decisions cost the Arizona time and time again. Lack of focus and effort, heavy reliance on freshman and the absence of true point guard caused these maladies on the court.
While the sputtering end can be explained away by the aforementioned factors, with Aaron Gordon’s signing there will be no excuses next season. This team will have no reason not to be great all year long. A mid-season lull will not be acceptable. A loss to UCLA, let alone three, will be unexplainable for the 2013-14 version of Arizona basketball. To be seeded fourth in the Pac-12 tournament will be an embarrassment.
The next Wildcats are too loaded not to be great. Thanks to three straight top-seven recruiting classes (according to ESPN 2011—seventh, 2012—third, 2013—currently fifth), and a timely transfer, Arizona’s lineup will look like this:
PG: T.J. McConnell
SG: Nick Johnson
SF: Aaron Gordon
PF: Brandon Ashley/Grant Jerrett
C: Kaleb Tarczewski
SF: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
SG: Gabe York
PG: Jordin Mayes
C: Angelo Chol
That lineup is nothing but scary. It is experienced. It can score inside with a myriad of post options. It can score outside with a series of shooters. It is huge. It will dominate on the defensive end. It has stars at every position. It has ridiculous athleticism. It is long. It is deep. I could go on and on.
More specifically, McConnell fills the badly needed “true point guard” slot. His decision making, ball handling, defensive prowess and shooting ability will improve some of the biggest deficiencies from last season’s team. The big three, who improved steadily all season and who were huge factors late, will be an offseason better. Nick Johnson will be the leader of this team and in his junior season, will be out for blood. The bench is also very talented and gets a year better.
Another addition which has been lost in the mix with the Gordon signing, is how good Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is. It is not every team who has the luxury of bringing a McDonald’s All American off the bench, but that is Arizona’s plight. The 16th overall player in his class, Hollis-Jefferson can do just about everything on the floor. He can score, defend and has done nothing but win while playing in one of the toughest high school basketball regions in the country.
But the game changer is Gordon. He takes Arizona from the realm of very good, to an early favorite to win the title. Gordon is an explosive athlete who draws comparisons to Blake Griffin. But he wants to be more than a dunker. He models his game after Scottie Pippen and aspires to be able to do it all. He comes pretty close now.
To start, there has never been an athlete quite like Gordon at Arizona. While Derrick Williams attacked the rim with a vengeance, Gordon is meaner, nastier. When he dunks the ball you feel sorry for the backboard. His dunks will put Arizona in the top-plays on a weekly basis.
But along with that God-given athleticism, his skill set is great as well. He is a good shooter, passer and ball handler. He has great hands, basketball IQ, and a high motor. He is the type of player who could end up as versatile as Scottie Pippen. In my estimation, he is the most talented freshman to ever commit to the University of Arizona.
His addition to this team takes expectations to a whole new level. Gordon, who had only been a Wildcat for a matter of minutes, seemed to understand this. At his announcement press conference he was asked what to describe a successful season for Arizona, he replied, “national championship.”
He might not be far off. While last season there were lots of reasons the team did not do as well as hoped, this season there are none. This team has no holes. Not only that, it has stars going seven or eight deep. Miller, in his four plus years in Tucson has built a great team. It should perform up to that level all year long. The 2013-14 version of the Arizona Wildcats, and Sean Miller, will have no excuses.