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April 3, 2013

Fully stocked frontcourt a throwback for Arizona

Five-star forward Aaron Gordon's commitment to Arizona on Tuesday comes with plenty of speculation, and almost seven months to fuel it.

How does his presence impact the rotation? Will there be enough minutes to go around? Should one of the many forwards head coach Sean Miller now has on his roster take a redshirt?

All are bridges the UA coaching staff will cross sometime between now and the 2013-14 season opener in November.

There is no shortage of options for the Wildcats' frontcourt, and that's an enviable dilemma any team should embrace.

The program developed a reputation as Point Guard U. for producing top-flight playmakers in the late 1980s through the 2000s. However, each of UA's best teams has had a strong presence in the paint.

Lute Olson's first Final Four team in 1988 started Anthony Cook, Tom Tolbert and All-American Sean Elliott. Joe Turner brought post depth off the bench. The program's first Elite Eight team, led by Fred Snowden in 1976, featured arguably the best frontcourt tandem ever to grace the UA hardwood in Bob Elliott and Al Fleming.

The current situation is reminiscent of 2001, when Olson had so many forwards that Rick Anderson redshirted, Eugene Edgerson came off the bench as a redshirt senior, and Luke Walton was a reserve.

Newcomers Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson have similarities to Richard Jefferson and Michael Wright, the starters of the 2001 national runner-up Wildcats. Jefferson and Wright signed in the same class of 1998, and made immediate impacts upon their arrivals in Tucson.

College basketball has changed in the 15 years since Jefferson and Wright were members of a freshman class that also included Walton and Anderson. Freshmen don't just contribute immediately - it's now expected of them.

Meanwhile, the one-and-done epidemic that has both thinned college rosters and diluted NBA draft classes remains a concern - particularly when signing top-tier talent. That's exactly what Miller has done, landing Gordon.

The 2013 class is the second in as many years with two McDonald's All-Americans. Miller's 2012 signing class featured Grant Jerrett and Brandon Ashley: both All-Americans, both forwards. Both are expected to return in 2013.

None are likely to defer. Jerrett, Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski all progressed by leaps-and-bounds over the course of the season. Competition in UA practices should be fierce, which in turn should translate on the court.

The insipid one-year rule isn't going anywhere any time soon, and projections for the 2013 NBA draft indicate another exodus of first-year players entering, ready or not. Telling is that of the teams remaining in this weekend's Final Four, just one freshman projected in NBADraft.net's 2013 mock, Michigan's Glenn Robinson III. Teammate Mitch McGary announced his decision to return on Tuesday.

Conversely, first-round NIT exit Kentucky could lose two freshmen to the NBA in Archie Goodwin and Nerlens Noel. UK demonstrated both the high reward - winning the 2012 national championship - and high risk of relying on a revolving door of one-and-done players.

Rather than showcase his abilities with a disproportionate workload, Gordon will play a part in a bigger picture.

It's an old-school approach to college basketball, but if Miller finds success with it, UA could be a recruiting trendsetter.

Kyle KensingKyle Kensing
GOAZCATS.com Staff Writer

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