Barring an undefeated run through the Pac-10 tournament, the Arizona Wildcats (14-14, 8-8) are poised to miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a quarter-century. In a down year for the entire Pac-10, one of its signature programs isn’t even in the “bubble” discussion.
A transition like this is commonplace when one legendary coach retires (Lute Olson) and a younger coach takes over. But for first-year AZ boss Sean Miller — who made the Big Dance field in four of his five years at Xavier, including an Elite Eight — it’s not something he’s used to. In Dime #55, Miller shares the recruiting pitch that will help him rebuild a national powerhouse:
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“The University of Arizona, first and foremost, is an amazing place to go to college. Tucson is the epitome of a college town. It’s a place of a million people, but it certainly doesn’t feel that big. Everything in Tucson revolves around the University of Arizona and it’s one of the great state universities in our country. You can major in virtually any field of study, and that degree, when you receive it one day, will be one that will be respected all around the world. As far as Tucson being a livable place — you know, the setting where you go to school — the average temperature in the winter is in the 60s and 70s. Many times here you go from class to practice, practice to wherever you head, and you wear shorts and a t-shirt year-round.
“In terms of our basketball program, we’ve been in the NCAA tournament 25 years in a row. We’ve challenged over those years to win the National Championship about ten times — we won the National Championship in 1997 — and during that span, we’ve gone to the Final Four twice and won eleven Pac-10 championships. When you talk about a history of winning, we take a back seat to no one.
“In terms of young people developing — since the NBA Draft went to two rounds in 1989, there’s been no single program in college basketball that has had more first- and second-round picks than the University of Arizona. When you watch the NBA playoffs, you see Richard Jefferson, Andre Iguodala, Mike Bibby, Gilbert Arenas, Luke Walton, Jason Terry and Jerryd Bayless. You’re watching former Wildcats that have left here and gone on to do what you want to do.
“In terms of the now, my job and the reason that I left Xavier to come to Arizona was to compete to win a National Championship again. We’re in the building stages of restoring our program, but I need people to believe in what we do and who we are to make this happen.
“We have an exciting style of play. When you play at the McKale Center, you play in front of 14,500 people every single night and the atmosphere here on game night is electric. And when you combine all of those elements, what you have here at the University of Arizona is the complete and total package.”