The Arizona Wildcats are still undefeated at 7-0 and are ranked No. 8 in the country. After beating the UTEP Miners earlier this season, the Wildcats officially signed Rondae Jefferson, the 6'7" small forward from Chester, Pennsylvania.
The five-star recruit was ranked No. 17 on the ESPN 100 and also ranked first in the state and fourth in the country at his position. While these numbers are great, the question lingers: Can he make an immediate impact on such a talented team?
Arizona has been relatively untested early in the year and have even struggled early against lesser opponents in Charleston Southern and Southern Mississippi. They are starting two seniors in Solomon Hill and Mark Lyons, and their dynamic sixth man, Kevin Parrom, is also a senior.
But don't cry for the Wildcats. They already have two transfer students redshirting and practicing with the team in 6'10" forward Matt Korcheck from Cochise College and 6'1" guard T.J. McConnell from Duquesne. They also signed four-star recruit Elliott Pitts out of Dublin, California.
Jefferson will fill in nicely for the departing Hill and might even exceed the current production of the starting forward. Jefferson has a dynamic range and can also play shooting guard as well as small forward if coach Sean Miller opts to not have him play the power forward position.
Miller told Bruce Pascoe of the Arizona Daily Star that he was ecstatic about the new recruits in Jefferson, and Miller said that Jefferson is a physical player and a winner from one of the most competitive regions in the country, where he has led his team to 58-straight victories. He also said this to say of Jefferson in comparison to Hill:
He’s a warrior. He’s similar to Solomon in that he can do a lot of things. He can handle the ball, he has a chance to be a great defensive player, he’s almost 6-7 and long, very unselfish, can pass and I think he is a player who is a great teammate. He can be at a lot of different spots. His versatility is the greatest thing that he has going for him.
One of the main reasons that Jefferson selected Arizona over his second-choice Florida and hometown Temple was that he was told that he would have a chance to start right away. With the departure of Hill and Parrom, this big man will obviously have to impress coach Miller and prove that he is the better option than this year's top recruit, Grant Jerrett.
Jerrett was the jewel in Miller's 2012 recruiting class crown as the No. 9 overall player and the No. 2 power forward in the country. He started the first two games and has since been relegated to coming in off the bench. Jerrett is now 12-of-33 from the field, including 5-of-13 from beyond the arc, averaging just over five points per game.
Is Jerrett's story a tale of woe or more of a cautionary tale? While all the pieces were in place for Jerrett to make a big splash at 6'10", he was replaced on the starting lineup by scrappy 6'8" Brandon Ashley. Ashley leads the team in field-goal percentage, is second in rebounds and third in scoring.
The lineup next year could be the best in the country with junior and leading scorer Nick Johnson, sophomores Ashley, Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski. The only questions are who will get the start in the backcourt with Johnson and will Jefferson outshine Ashley or Jerrett?
I predict Jefferson will get the chance to start next year with Ashley while Jerrett will be a great swingman/sixth-man much in the same vein as Kevin Parrom.