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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Finnish forward Markkanen shouldn’t be overlooked in deep recruiting class

Sean Miller’s 2016 recruiting class is arguably the greatest class he has ever assembled during his time at Arizona, as he has racked up four five-star recruits.

With Terrance Ferguson now in the fold as well, many seem to be forgetting about Lauri Markkanen. The Wildcats boast a total of six five-star players, including returners Ray Smith and Allonzo Trier, and they are in prime positions to take back the Pac-12 Conference crown, which Oregon claimed last season.

The Wildcats were deep into fall with no recruits after former Arizona commit T.J. Leaf spurned Arizona for UCLA. Sean Miller and his staff replaced Leaf weeks later with Markkanen. He might not be as highly ranked as Leaf, but the Finnish forward has three inches on the former Wildcat recruit and will playing for an arguably better team.

Arizona edged out two top-25 schools in Utah and North Carolina to sign Markkanen, its first five-star commit for the 2016-2017 season. He can contribute to the Wildcats immediately.

Markkanen can compete with Smith right away for minutes at power forward and maybe even play spot minutes at center.

Miller employed above-average shooting big men like Brandon Ashley and Mark Tollefsen, and Markkanen could be the best of the three. He has a consistent 3-point shot to go with a great mid-range game.

Arizona is losing its top frontcourt players in Ryan Anderson, Kaleb Tarczewski and Tollefsen, so Markkanen will have plenty of chances to earn minutes.

Markkanen averaged 18.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game last year at the U18 European Championships, leading many to believe he is a future first-rounder.

If Miller can help him improve his strength, rebounding and defense, Markkanen could be another sure-fire first rounder. He may not be a can’t-miss stud like Aaron Gordon or Stanley Johnson, but he might be more polished offensively.

With range out to the 3-point line and the ability to run the floor, Markkanen gives Miller a great stretch-four whose size should cause fits for the opposition. His game could stretch the floor for his teammates and complement the slashing abilities of Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons.

Arizona has struggled throughout the past few years with outside-shooting. Markkanen can make opponents pay for attempting to zone up against Arizona.

With top 3-point shooter Gabe York leaving for graduation, Markkanen has to convert the spot-up shots he will get from all the attention on Trier, Simmons and others.

With next year’s Final Four taking place in Phoenix, it is championship or bust for Arizona as usual. If Markkanen can give the Wildcats solid minutes and frontcourt scoring, the team will be in a good position to dominate.

Follow Ivan Leonard on Twitter.

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