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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    4 inked for m-hoops’ 2008 class

    UA interim head coach Kevin ONeill announces the 2008 mens basketball recruiting class during a press conference yesterday. The class ranks in the top 10 in the nation, with point guard Brandon Jennings leading the way at No. 8 overall.
    UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill announces the 2008 men’s basketball recruiting class during a press conference yesterday. The class ranks in the top 10 in the nation, with point guard Brandon Jennings leading the way at No. 8 overall.

    The Arizona men’s basketball team signed four players for the 2008-09 season with one thing in common yesterday: They all come from winning backgrounds.

    That formula helped the Wildcats reel in their second straight top-10 recruiting class, coming in at No. 7 in the rankings of both and

    “”Those guys are all more than anything winners, and that’s what we want,”” said Kevin O’Neill, Arizona’s interim head coach. “”We want guys with winning backgrounds, with winning pedigrees, that come here with the expectation to win like we’re trying to do right now.””

    On the first day recruits could sign national letters of intent, Arizona reloaded with players at every position, signing point guard Brandon Jennings (Rivals’ No. 8 overall, five stars), power forward Emmanuel Negedu (No. 31, four stars), center Jeff Withey (No. 39, four stars) and shooting guard Brendon Lavender.

    Jennings’ Oak Hill Academy squad earned USA Today’s top national ranking after beating nine state champions last year. Lavender has won consecutive Arizona state championships at Mesa Mountain View. Withey led his squad to the CIF Southern Regional championship game last season. Negedu’s team is coming off a 29-6 campaign.

    Recruiting players with these types of backgrounds is quite important for a program, said Dave Telep, the national recruiting director for

    “”The hardest thing is to change a guy’s mentality and makeup and approach to the game,”” he said. “”When you have kids like a Jennings and Negedu and Withey and Lavender, it’s a lot easier – almost like, winning is engrained and (so you) move onto teaching finer points. When your DNA is already programmed to value that, it definitely helps.””

    The commits showed loyalty to the program despite the indefinite leave of absence UA head coach Lute Olson took starting Nov. 4. O’Neill said that the players never wavered on their commitments, being that himself and assistants Josh Pastner and Miles Simon reassured them that Olson’s absence would be for only a short time.

    In doing so, O’Neill told them that by choosing Arizona they’re coming to a great program, university and basketball town.

    “”You made your decision based on those things, and that’s a good reason to follow through with that decision,”” he said. “”So I don’t think the fact that there’s not a timetable in place for Coach to come back affected them at all, because they wanted to be here at the University of Arizona.””

    Jennings highlights the class, earning top point guard honors from Scout, Bob Gibbons’ All-Star Sports Top 250, Clark Francis’ Hoop Scoops and Van Coleman’s Hoop Masters.

    “”Let’s be honest, (they got) the No. 1 point guard in the country in Brandon Jennings and a kid who’s distinguished himself at his position maybe most clearly than anyone else,”” Telep said. “”That goes a long way. He’s a guy who’s got the task to turn a high-octane offense a little bit higher.””

    O’Neill said he spoke with Jennings often when he visited Tucson for the Cactus Classic in May, telling him to look at how many players Olson has put in the NBA. The interim coach said his NBA experience aided the recruitment, as well.

    In light of Arizona’s poor showing in its opener Tuesday, O’Neill did not answer whether he thought Negedu and Withey would have been able to contribute this season, but he did say the Wildcats will count on both to play as freshmen.

    Lavender, although least heralded in the rankings among the quartet, represents the third in-state player to be signed by Arizona in the last two years, after the team did not previously sign an in-state player since Channing Frye from the class of 2001.

    “”I think if there’s good players in this state, we’ve got to try to get them,”” O’Neill said. “”We want Arizona players to come here, have a great experience, play for the University of Arizona and stand out, and we’ve had a lot of guys do that.””

    O’Neill called this recruiting class “”much needed,”” making the statement that even at 73, Olson can still recruit.

    “”Any time you can corral what most people agree is a top-10 recruiting class you have every reason to feel like it’s mission accomplished,”” Telep said.

    Hoops signees at a glance

    Brandon Jennings, 6-foot point guard (Rivals’ No. 8 overall)

    Kevin O’Neill says: “”Brandon Jennings – it speaks for itself. Big-time point guard, big-time skill, just a great, great talent, and a guy who’s just a really great team guy. He’s going to be capable of double-doubles on many nights, points and assists, and he’s a guy that has got a chance to be a very, very great college player and a chance to be a great
    pro already.””

    Emmanuel Negedu, 6-foot-7 power forward (Rivals’ No. 31 overall)

    O’Neill says: “”Negedu is one of those guys that absolutely is a killer. Big-time energy guy, highly competitive, has a chance to be a big-time athletic rebounder on both ends and a guy that’s going to manufacture extra possessions and points for his team because of his aggressiveness and the way he plays. He’s going to be a great defender, probably going to be able to guard guys of all different sizes because of his
    athletic ability.””

    Jeff Withey, 6-foot-11 center (Rivals’ No. 39 overall)

    O’Neill says: “”Withey’s got extraordinary skill for a 7-foot kid. He shoots it, uses both hands well. His best days are ahead of him. He’s a guy that has a great chance as a center to also have the ability to step out to 15, 16 feet already. His skills are a very high level. I’ve not been around a guy coming in as a freshman as a big man that’s had the skill development that he has already.””

    Brendon Lavender, 6-foot-4 shooting guard

    O’Neill says: “”Lavender’s a guy who can be a great swingman-type player. I think he can play the two and three spots, probably guard a few small forwards. Shoots the ball extremely well, very athletic.””

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