By: Zach Silvernail
As a die-hard University of Arizona basketball fan, it is a very difficult and bittersweet time for me. As long as I can remember, basketball has been all I’ve known. While other toddlers were off spitting out their first words, or taking those ever so wobbly first baby steps, I was working on my left hand dribble, and perfecting my follow through. I was fortunate enough to have been brought in up a family rich in it’s love for basketball (sweet), and strong in it’s ties to the University of Arizona (sweeter). As a young child infatuated by the world of basketball, growing up in a Wildcat household, it was only natural that I would take to Lute Olson and the Arizona Wildcats. It just so happened that the UofA happened to have one of the best basketball programs in the country, and were particularly known for the players I envied most; their point guards (sweetest).
But as my world, basketball dreams, and basketball realities began to change, so did the University of Arizona Men’s Basketball program. On October 23, 2008, “Point Guard U” was dealt a devastating blow. Lute Olson, the father of UofA basketball, one of the best, most successful coaches college basketball has ever known, retired (too bitter). Needless to say, the program was in shambles. After both Kevin O’Neill (stronger synonym for bitter?) and Russ Pennell were given brief opportunities to turn things around, it was clear that Arizona needed to find a permanent solution, and worthy successor to the great Lute Olson. Thank goodness for Sean Miller.
Miller’s acceptance of the head coaching position at UofA had an immediate positive impact on the program. Within only three months of taking the job, Miller managed to piece together a five player recruiting class that ranked 13th in the country (thanks USC). Last year (Miller’s first year), Arizona failed to make the tournament, although their extremely young and inexperienced roster was not expected to do so. But a young, talented core, to go with Miller’s uncanny ability to recruit, gives us UofA faithful hope that there is, after all, light at the end of the tunnel. Miller once again proved his ability to recruit the country’s top players this week by signing 2011 PG/SG, Nick Johnson. Here is where the bittersweet saga continues.
Sweet: Nick Johnson, who formally played high school basketball in Arizona (now plays for Findlay College Prep), is one of the premier not just guards, but players in the country. He is ranked 20th overall in the ESPNU 100 class of 2011. Johnson possesses a solid all around game, but is best known for his unbelievable athleticism and jumping ability, which can be seen all over YouTube. Clearly, he is a perfect and valuable piece of what is becoming a more recognizable UofA puzzle, and has a chance to be one of the best players in the country.
Bitter: One day after Johnson verbally committed to UofA, another Arizona recruit, Jahii Carson, committed to crosstown rival Arizona State. Carson, who is now a senior at Mesa High School, is currently ranked 54th overall in ESPNU’s top 100. As a point guard, Jahii Carson is near perfect, and then some. At only 5’10”, his athleticism takes the term “off the charts” to a whole new level. It is rare that you see a point guard catch a lob in the half court, or dunk on the opposing team’s center, but not when Jahii’s in the game. Coupled with his leaping ability are his nauseating handles. Picture AI’s crossover, followed by Russell Westbrook’s explosiveness, and you have Jahii Carson. He is a very capable and talented passer, but needs to become a more willing one. But, that is one aspect of a point guard’s game that always improves upon reaching the college level, for most guys like Jahii Carson have never had people around them with their type of capability until they get out of high school. His jumper also needs to become a little more consistent, but again, this is something that will improve at the collegiate ranks, for he will not just be able to blow by everyone as he does now. If you haven’t figured it out by now, Jahii Carson is one of my favorite 2011 players in the country. Watching him poster ASU’s slow, foreign centers in his Wildcat red and blue has been a dream of mine for some time now. Unfortunately, it is a dream that will never become a reality. Instead, he will be playing for the team I loath most.
It is too hard to tell at this point which of these great incoming guards will have a better season/more profound impact on their team in their freshman year. But, this much I do know: UofA and ASU both signed two of the elite athletes and point guards in the 2011 class, and have both taken gigantic steps towards solidifying what has FINALLY become a competitive rivalry. Watching Johnson and Carson go head-to-head will be very difficult for me, but a pleasure for college basketball fans across the nation.
So Let Rivalry Begin! Whose Has the Better Poster Dunk of the Year?
Jahii Carson (remember he’s 5’11) over 6’10 big man:
Nick Johnson on the fastbreak?
Both Carson & Johnson Have Bounce: