- Adam Finkelstein
Recruiting is a little bit like playing cards. You have to consider both your hand and your competition's before deciding how much you want to wager.
For high-profile college coaches, a scholarship offer is sometimes no more than a minimum wager to test the waters. Sean Miller is one head coach who tends to use his offers liberally, having extended 21 of them in the current 2015 class.
What’s undeniable is that once he decides he wants to go all-in, there aren’t many coaches who win more big hands. In fact, with Allonzo Trier becoming the latest ESPN 100 prospect to make an early commitment to Miller, you could argue that he has yet to miss on one of his top 2015 targets.
The Arizona Wildcats hold additional verbal commitments from two other five-star prospects in Justin Simon and Ray Smith. They also held a commitment from Tyler Dorsey up until last June, and while the origin of that split is debatable, the bottom line for Arizona was that they thought they could get better, and they did. They never stopped recruiting Trier and Isaiah Briscoe, even after Dorsey committed, and so ultimately they had a good hand but chose to double down and ended up winning big.
Now, that’s not to say that Arizona has their pick of all the best prospects in the country. Not at all. Only that Miller plays his hands especially well, analyzing not only the talent of the player but also his ties to the situation and those of his competition before deciding how much time and resources he wants to invest.
Chase Jeter is the perfect example. The five-star big man from Las Vegas committed to Duke on Monday night. Sure, Arizona would have loved to have him. They offered, actively recruited him, and even made his final six. But make no mistake about it, they were never all-in. They knew they weren’t getting him long before he went on national TV and had prioritized another big man much earlier in the process -- namely Ivan Rabb.
Rabb was not only the top-ranked prospect in the ESPN 100 heading into the July evaluation period, he was also a product of the same AAU program, the Oakland Soldiers, that has supplied Arizona with arguably the biggest recent pipeline in all of college basketball recruiting in recent years with Nick Johnson, Brandon Ashley, Aaron Gordon, and Stanley Johnson among others.
Now, Rabb is the last remaining target left on Arizona’s big board and the exclamation point that could punctuate what could ultimately be the nation’s No. 1 ranked recruiting class.
Oakland Soldiers program director Mark Olivier doesn’t know where Rabb will ultimately decide to go to college. Rabb is currently in Dubai with Team USA's U17 team and hasn’t given indication of any favorites or time frames. In fact, Rabb’s high school coach at Bishop O’Dowd, Lou Richie, is far more involved in his recruitment. One thing Olivier does expect though is that Rabb will make his own decision.
“I look at Ivan and I don’t think he’s that type of kid in that he’s going to go there because somebody else went there,” Olivier said.
Nevertheless, it would be only natural for the player who first began wearing a Soldiers uniform when he was in the 7th grade to want to follow so many of the players that he grew up admiring, especially Johnson, who took Rabb under his wing during last year’s EYBL season.
“It could be,” Olivier conceded, “but Stanley will also tell him to do what he thinks is right because that’s the way he was. He didn’t go there because Aaron was there. He went there because that’s what was best for him.”
Rabb will have no shortage of options in the coming months. He’s being pursued by a variety of programs including California, USC, UCLA, Georgetown, Kansas, North Carolina, and Kentucky -- which is making a hard push to get him on campus in October for their Big Blue Madness.
For Sean Miller, the bottom line is this: He’s won every hand he's played so far this year. He has the scoring guard, athletic combo-forward, and big point guard he wanted -- but they’ve all led up to this.
The stakes are high, he's all-in, going for broke, and across the table from the best recruiters the nation has to offer. The prize isn't just one celebrated prospect but perhaps the nation's best recruiting class ... or maybe even a new contender for the nation's top recruiter.