DeAndre Ayton could bring Arizona to a Final Four, but that doesn’t mean he will


Arizona basketball fans everywhere rejoiced to the sound of No. 1 overall recruit DeAndre Ayton committing to the Wildcats last week.

While there’s no doubt head coach Sean Miller and company should be excited about the 2017-18 season, I’m here to tell you why Wildcat fans should proceed with cautious optimism while tempering expectations.

The Phoenix local joins a class that includes the No. 26 shooting guard prospect in the country, Alex Barcello. Ayton, above all, has the ability to carry major pieces of the 2017 recruiting class with him to Tucson. Just three of the top 10 and six of the top 30 in the 2017 ESPN 100 have committed.

Among the players still on the board are point guard Trevon Duval, small forward Kevin Knox, and shooting guards Gary Trent Jr. and Collin Sexton—all in the top 10 and all considering taking their talents to Arizona.

More from Wildcats Basketball

Miller’s biggest asset in recruiting these top-ranked athletes will undoubtedly be the center from Hillcrest Academy. Ayton has big-time potential, bringing his shot-blocking and play-making abilities with a 7-foot, 220-pound frame. In comparison, Nerlens Noel stood at 6-foot-10 and 215 pounds, and Jahlil Okafor topped off at 6-foot-10 and 265 pounds, according to ESPN 100.

“I’ve seen [Ayton] grow a ton in the last year, even in the last three months,” Hillcrest coach Kyle Weaver said per Jeff Goodman of ESPN. “He’s become a leader. There’s no one I’d rather go to battle with than DeAndre. He has such a bright future and Arizona will certainly have a chance to win a national title with him in the fold.”

The simple donning of a block-A hat on ESPN during his live announcement already has Tucson raving about a trip back to the Final Four.

Landing a No. 1 recruit is huge, and something Arizona hasn’t done since Brandon Jennings opted to play overseas in 2008. But landing the coveted top prospect doesn’t necessarily translate to a trip to the Final Four, let alone a national title.

Schools that land the No. 1 overall recruit have made the Final Four the following year just three times since 2007. They’ve won the national title just twice in that same time span. Here are nine years of history we researched including the class year, the player, the school, and how far their team went in the tournament in the recruit’s first season.

  • 2007    Kevin Love                  UCLA             Final Four
  • 2008    Brandon Jennings     Arizona         Sweet Sixteen
  • 2009    Avery Bradley            Texas             First Round
  • 2010    Harrison Barnes        UNC               Elite Eight
  • 2011    Anthony Davis           Kentucky      Champion
  • 2012    Nerlens Noel              Kentucky      NIT
  • 2013    Andrew Wiggins        Kansas         Third Round
  • 2014    Jalil Okafor                  Duke              Champion
  • 2015    Ben Simmons            LSU                Invited to NIT
  • 2016    Harry Giles                 Duke              TBD
  • 2017   DeAndre Ayton          Arizona         TBD

No. 1 recruits don’t always add up to national championships. In fact, the school showcasing the top recruit has either failed to make the NCAA tournament or lost in the first round three times since 2007.

So, is a Final Four trip for Arizona in 2018 really a foregone conclusion?

Out of 54 people who voted in a recent Twitter poll, 72 percent said Arizona will reach the Final Four with Ayton. Let’s think about that for a second.

The 2018 Final Four in San Antonio is 19 months away. Nineteen months. That’s more than a season, over a year and an eon in the college basketball realm. If the answer to that poll was anything but “Too early to tell” or a reply of “Why are you even asking me that,” well, those voters need to strongly reconsider reality.

Ayton truly does seem passionate about playing in Tucson. To be frank, he already appears more passionate about bringing the city a title than all of the 2015-16 team was combined. But he needs to at least get to Tucson before fans can start to ponder anything remotely resembling hopes of a Final Four.

“College is a must,” Ayton told ESPN. “My family wants me to go to college. It’s important for me and my mom. I want to go to Arizona and win a national championship. Arizona won its only national title 20 years ago and I’d like to help bring another one to Tucson.”

That kind of passion has been missing from Arizona for a while now, and it could mean the difference between an Elite Eight heartbreaker at the buzzer—ahem—and a trip to the Promised Land. By no means, though, is it the only missing piece.

Looking at the Wildcats’ roster, Arizona could realistically lose six role players after this season. Rawle Alkins, Kobi Simmons, Lauri Markkanen, Ray Smith and Allonzo Trier all have NBA-potential and will be trendy draft picks come June. Former starter Kadeem Allen is entering his final year of eligibility as well.

To put that into perspective, Arizona lost four starters following the 2014-15 season, brought in the No. 18 recruit for the next season and then lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

The pieces are in place for Arizona to be a national contender in 2017-18. But there are way too many question marks and a literal season to be played before the Wildcats can be prominently dubbed a favorite.

Next: College basketball pre-season ranking has Ducks ahead of the Wildcats

What could possibly go wrong after landing an elite recruit? Arizona fans should know better than any fan base in the country—see Brandon Jennings and Terrance Ferguson. While Ayton is no doubt a cause for optimism, Wildcat fans should proceed with skepticism and the friendly reminder that things haven’t necessarily bounced Arizona’s way the last 15 years.