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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: The UA is not a basketball school

Stan Liu / Arizona Athletics
Arizona baseball head coach Jay Johnson waves to a crowd upon his arrival back to Tucson after winning the NCAA Super Regionals in Mississippi.

From the first week of November until the final game of the Arizona basketball team loses (whether it’s in March or April), Tucson comes alive for college basketball season. 

The pulse and constant crave for basketball is second to none especially for a city that doesn’t have a professional organization to cheer for until a minor league hockey team comes.

Think about it, whenever the UA comes up in context, basketball for the most part is a trending topic. 

The conversation usually starts with talking about what went wrong in the NCAA Tournament in the previous season, the stellar recruiting class that is supposed to bring a national championship or at least a Final Four appearance and then it ends with conducting different rotation lineups and posting them on Twitter to look like a basketball guru.

I’ve been guilty to do that a time or two—or three times—but that’s the nature of being sucked into the basketball frenzy at Arizona.

Despite only one championship to show for it, the consistency on the winning side for Arizona provides hope that there is a possible chance to cut down the nets in April. 

However, the consistency of the monstrous men’s basketball program has taken the attention away from other programs that are arguably more successful especially in years past.

For instance, just take a look at the football program and the movement Rich Rodriguez has embraced since taking over head coaching duties in 2012. 

Rodriguez took over a team that was in shambles after former head coach Mike Stoops hit a plateau of mediocre performances.

Sure Rodriguez has been on the hot seat, because he’s battling in-state recruits with Arizona State University which has had a better track record in history and plus, it’s not easy to take the cream of the crop from Southern California when the mystique from the USCs and UCLAs of the world. 

Rodriguez even took a hit when he flirted with the University of South Carolina job and many doubted him for even thinking about accepting an Southeastern Conference coaching job, because how can any coach thrive in the almighty SEC with the spread offense and the infamous 3-3-5 defense?

Comparing Rodriguez to Stoops in four years, it’s night and day. 

The first four seasons under Stoops, the Wildcats went 17-29, while the first four Rodriguez teams went 33-20 to go along with three bowl wins and a Fiesta Bowl appearance.

Rodriguez isn’t putting out a nationally recognized product like Sean Miller does with basketball, but there is a line of consistency that follows the same way basketball did. 

In Miller’s first year, Arizona didn’t even make the National Invitation Tournament let alone the NCAA Tournament and the primary reason why the Wildcats went to the Elite Eight in 2011 was because Derrick Williams was arguably the hottest player in college basketball next to University of Connecticut’s Kemba Walker.

Then in 2012, Arizona basketball returned to being mediocre, losing to Bucknell University in the first round of the NIT, but of course what was the conversation after a disappointing season? The incredible recruiting class highlighted by Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett.

And then the following season, we were all back at it again talking about what went wrong against Ohio State University in the Sweet 16 and how Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson were the saviors of the program moving forward. 

It’s a constant cycle for a program that hasn’t been to a Final Four in the Miller era, but then again it’s the feeling that Arizona was right there in the mix to win a national championship just because of the consistency.

What about consistent programs like the eight-time national championship softball team under Mike Candrea or even the late great baseball squad who battled its way to the College World Series twice in five seasons with a national title in 2012?

To think it took Jay Johnson just one season to earn a trip to Omaha, Nebraksa and blowing the expectations out of the water, while Arizona basketball seems to disappoint every season. 

And that’s not a knock on Miller and the basketball program, because after all Arizona basketball is a brand name, but why does the UA have to be strictly a “basketball school” when there is success in other departments?

The whole reason why people act like rabid dogs for hoops in The Old Pueblo is the consistency and the mystique of Arizona basketball, when in reality it’s a smoke screen that covers other sports.

Arizona is not a basketball school, it’s an all-sports school and that’s not going to change any time soon

Follow Justin Spears on Twitter

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