First and foremost the Cats get two legitimate big men. The Cats have struggled in their recruitment of bigs the past few years. The Cats have had a combination of missed opportunities and bad luck when it came to big men recruits. Mohamed Tangara and Kirk Walter have battled health issues the past few years, while Fendi Onobun has yet to be a factor. Even Jordan Hill has only scratched the surface of his ability.
The Cats also had some misses in recruiting. While they added Hill and Alex Jacobson over the past two classes, but missed out adding a second post player in each class.
The 2008 class not only includes a pair of bigs, but both are highly regarded.
The higher rated of the two is center Jeff Withey. Withey is an athletic, talented big man who can run the floor and play in the post. He has good footwork in the paint and can step out and knock down the 15-footer.
“I think Jeff is one of the best true centers out there,” said Wildcat interim coach Kevin O’Neill. “He’s got a knack for controlling things in the middle.”
With his height and shot blocking ability, Withey should contend for playing time right away, regardless of who returns. The Cats need size in the middle and Withey gives them talented size.
Emmanuel Negedu is the second big man in the class. He’s a bit undersized but has a great build and great athleticism. Better yet he’s works his tail off, battling on the boards and on defense. Like Withey, he can get out in transition and finish with the best of them.
“Emmanuel is really strong with a great work ethic,” said O’Neill. “He shows great toughness and a relentless style of play.”
With Jerryd Bayless, Nic Wise and Laval Lucas-Perry in the fold point guard may not seem like a huge need, but there is no guarantee how long Bayless will be at Arizona and Wise will be a junior next year. In comes Brandon Jennings. Even if the Cats don’t need a point guard next year, they could not pass on a player like Jennings. He’s a scorer, passer and defender. While he is not the pass-first point guard some purists crave, he has off the charts quickness and is outstanding on the break.
“Brandon is an unbelievably quick point guard a great leader,” said O’Neill. “He makes great decisions with the ball and plays at a tempo that matches our style of play.”
Brendan Lavender fills out the class. He gives the Cats some versatility, he can play both the two and the three, and has proven that he can accept about any role the coaches give him. He has played a somewhat support role in high school and has been both a role player and a focal point on his AAU teams.
The Cats don’t have a huge need next year at the wing but to get an unselfish player who can learn the system slowly before playing a bigger role later in his career.
“Brendon understands the team concept,” said O’Neill. “He’s a great shooter who knows what it takes to win. He’s been a part of two state championship teams.”
One of the keys in the minds of the Wildcat coaches is the fact that these players are winners. Withey won a state title as a sophomore, Lavender is chasing his third Arizona title and Jennings led Oak Hill to the mythical national championship last season.