Just when it has appeared the Arizona Wildcats basketball operations flat-lined through the years, its coaching hires recruited a class that served as a defibrillator for the heart of the program to beat strong again.
When Fred Snowden was hired in 1972 as the first African American to coach a major college program, the Arizona Wildcats were coming off five losing seasons in the previous six years.
The first recruiting class of Snowden, a former Michigan assistant, included Detroit standouts Eric Money and Coniel Norman, who were drafted by NBA teams only two years later. The Arizona Wildcats went 35-17 in those two seasons bolstered by frontcourt players Al Fleming and Bob Elliott, who were also recruited from Big Ten country.
By 1976, Snowden had the Arizona Wildcats in contention for a Final Four berth, losing to UCLA in the NCAA West Regional final at Pauley Pavilion (via ESPN.com).
When Lute Olson was hired in 1983 after a successful nine-year run at Iowa, the Arizona Wildcats were at the depths of college basketball. The season before Olson's arrival, Arizona finished 4-24 overall and 1-17 in the Pac-12 under Ben Lindsey, forcing Lindsey's immediate ouster after only one season in Tucson.
Olson's first recruiting class included two of the nation's best junior college players (Pete Williams and Eddie Smith) and an obscure Pacific Palisades (Calif.) High School guard named Steve Kerr. Those three players, all drafted by NBA teams, were responsible for the Arizona Wildcats to advance to the NCAA tournament in Olson's second season.
Before Sean Miller was brought on board in 2009, the Arizona Wildcats basketball program again fell on hard times. Olson abruptly retired before the 2008-09 season because of health concerns after he was on a personal leave of absence in 2007-08.
Two interim staffs, led by Kevin O'Neill and Russ Pennell, coached the Arizona Wildcats in consecutive years before Miller was lured away from Xavier after only five years of head coaching experience.
Miller's first recruiting class with the Arizona Wildcats in 2009 included two future first-round selections in the NBA (Derrick Williams and Solomon Hill). After missing the NCAA tournament in Miller's first year, the Wildcats responded with a deep run in the NCAA tournament in 2010-11 because of Williams' exploits.
Arizona dominated Duke in the Sweet 16 and barely lost to eventual champion Connecticut in the Elite Eight. Miller and the Wildcats served notice that the program will continue to compete at a high level, thanks to his initial recruiting class.
The first recruiting classes of Snowden, Olson and Miller achieved enough in their career with the Arizona Wildcats that each deserves a ranking among the program's top-five classes in the history of the program.
Research, thanks to information provided by the Arizona media relations department and fellow reporters who have covered the Wildcats over the last two decades, enabled me to compile a list of all Arizona recruiting classes since Snowden's hire in 1972 (via TucsonCitizen.com).
Using the criteria of how the recruits performed by the completion of their Arizona careers and how the Wildcats fared with them, the following is a top-five ranking of those recruiting classes.