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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


The return of Rawle Alkins and addition of Emmanuel Akot have Wildcats approaching preseason No. 1 status

Saul Bookman

Arizona guard Rawle Alkins sits with head coach Sean Miller during a press conference May 22, 2017. Alkins announced he was returning to the Wildcats after testing the waters of the NBA.

It’s been a while since Arizona men’s basketball fans last saw their team walking off the court at the SAP Center in San Jose, but time heals all wounds and it appears the Wildcats have licked their paws, ready for the 2017-18 season. This sudden change in optimism is due in large part to the events that have taken place the past 48 hours, the return of Rawle Alkins and the re-classification of Emmanuel Akot.

It wasn’t quite an “Allow me to re-introduce myself” moment but Alkins did walk in with a bit of Jay-Z swag as he took the floor and answered questions about his return to the Wildcats. With Alkins decision to return to school after testing the waters of the NBA draft is a big boost to a team that seemed uncertain about who would be the additional piece needed to get the Wildcats to the Final Four. Alkins return also has many publications pointing to Arizona as the preseason No. 1 ranked team going into next season.

“You know coach Miller, he supported me 100 percent,” Alkins said. “…I appreciate that and that is one thing that I love.”

Alkins also had one more piece of advice for not only coach Miller but for the media in attendance as he walked out of the press conference.

“Hey, before you all leave, remember to say SAVAGE LIFE,” Alkins said as a nod to the slogan he created for this past season.

The Wildcats projected lineup with Alkins back in the fold would appear to be set, featuring Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Allonzo Trier, Alkins, Dusan Ristic and incoming freshman Deandre Ayton, the No. 1 ranked recruit in the 2017 class.

Alkins tested the waters of the NBA draft and participated in the combine. After visits with the Toronto Raptors and his hometown Brooklyn Nets, he cancelled a visit to Utah and opted to return to school for his sophomore season. A decision that Arizona head coach Sean Miller says was thorough, calculated and part of a process that he hopes is a model for all his players.

“Often times when the season ends and this process begins with a college player, how it’s going to end up is a result of the process they choose, that their family chooses,” Miller said. “…In Rawle’s case, all the way through, we had great communication. It started right after our last game in the NCAA tournament and it didn’t end until the last day or two…I feel really really good about him returning for the obvious reasons, but from my perspective I also want to share really how proud of him I am.”

Miller elaborated on not only Alkins himself, but on his family, particularly Alkins’ mom and how they shared in the educational process along the way. Specifically the class and transparent nature in not only making sure Alkins was making the correct decision, but that everyone involved in the process was informed about where he was at in terms of his commitment whichever way he decided to go.

Alkins highlighted several pieces of feedback he received throughout the process, the biggest one being he needed a more consistent jumper and to shed more body fat. Such is the process of professional sports, a meat market of sorts with teams nit picking every little discrepancy no matter how big or small.

Alkins return wasn’t the only thing that has Arizona fans clamoring for the No. 1 preseason ranking, the unexpected addition of Emmanuel Akot, the No.15 ranked recruit for the 2018 season boosts an already stellar lineup. Akot reclassified to the 2017 class unexpectedly due to having the class load in high school necessary to go to college, that and because…well it’s Canada.

Akot bolsters a heavy lineup featuring the nations No. 3 ranked recruiting class. He is expected to compete at multiple positions which is the theme throughout the Wildcats roster with multiple players able to play multiple positions.

“We allowed his family and him to make that decision, we didn’t speed him up or slow him down,” Miller said. “…It wasn’t until very very recently that he made up in his mind that he wanted to do it.”

Miller spoke at length about Akot as well as transfer Chase Jeter who will join the Wildcats on the court after sitting out next season from Duke. Arizona would appear on paper to have everything it needs both in games and in practice to compete once again for not only the Pac-12 title but a national championship.

But just like any year, expectations have had a rude awakening when faced with reality, at least for Miller’s Wildcats thus far. After falling short of a possible “hometown” Final Four in Glendale this past season, Arizona will once again shoulder the burden of enormous expectations to get to San Antonio, home of this years Final Four.

However, this season will have one big difference than any other in recent memory, largely because of their mix of returning talent and incoming recruiting class. According to CBS Sports, no team since 2003, and possibly ever, has had three of its top four scorers return and combined it with a top three incoming recruiting class. Trier, Alkins and Ristic coming back in addition to Ayton, Akot, Brandon RandolphIra Lee and Alex Barcello as the newcomers should make for an interesting year in Tucson.

“Each year represents its own challenges, but to win it all, to have a great season, to reach the goals that we have and are expected to achieve, you need depth, you need quality, you need a great recruiting class, you need players that are willing to sacrifice,” Miller said. “you need upper classmen that are at their best, leadership, everything means a lot. So, I think from a talent perspective we all get 13 scholarships…so with that we all try to do the best we can to have the best team each year.”

Not all the talk was about who remains as Miller fielded questions about Chance Comanche, Kobi Simmons and Lauri Markkanen, all of whom signed with agents and remained in the NBA draft. Miller elaborated on Markkanen being a sure fire lottery pick without going into much detail about Comanche and Simmons regarding their prospects at the next level. Miller did say that Simmons athletically ability could be “scary” in three to four years based on what he saw during his time at Arizona.

The ebb and flow to being a Wildcats basketball fan isn’t easy. Post-season shortcomings filled with questions only to be replaced with the hope for a better future leave Arizona fans perplexed but relentlessly supportive. If you heard the local airwaves in Tucson on Monday, than you know how pumped up everyone is to start the ride all over again, because in Tucson, Arizona basketball never stops.

Follow Saul Bookman on Twitter.

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