A recent study preformed by ESPN analysts gutted 25 years of basketball history in order to ascertain who they believe to be the leading colleges that feed the NBA. Their findings concluded that the University of Arizona has produced the 6th highest NBA pedigree in the nation. This is no small feat considering that Arizona was the highest ranked school east of Kentucky, beating out west basketball giants such as Kansas and UCLA. The UofA has a history rich with basketball achievement on the professional level, primarily due to stability and developmental support provided by the Lute Olsen era, and the present Sean Miller era. In this summer’s 2013 NBA Draft, Arizona’s legacy of contributing key role players to the pro’s was amplified by the selections of Solomon Hill and Grant Jerrett.
Solomon Hill was a senior and fan favorite at McKale Center last season, contributing 13.4 points and 5.3 rebounds per outing. However, in Hill’s case, the numbers do not quite tell the tale of the heart and soul of last season’s Arizona team. Solomon was the go-to-guy in most instances, and he will go down in Arizona history as the player who helped Sean Miller bring the program back on track. Solomon’s natural leadership and intense work ethic enabled him to make vast improvements by the end of his senior year, and this is exactly what the Indiana Pacers saw in the young man when they stretched for him with their 23rd pick of the draft. Most analysts had predicted Hill falling to the late 2nd round, or out of the draft all together. Regardless, Solomon Hill fits right in with the Pacers’ game plan, which is dependant on athletic and versatile players who can play multiple positions. The 6-foot 7-inch Hill has been labeled a “tweener”, a player who has no true position in the NBA due to shortcomings on either side, but as long as the Pacers staff works with the hometown alum in order to develop his speed, he should be able to use his strength and soft shooting touch to provide a valuable arsenal for the Indiana machine.
Grant Jerrett had a somewhat mediocre freshman season at the UofA, putting up a lackluster stat sheet of 5.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, and just under a block per contest. Much to the surprise of Tucsonan’s and national analysts alike, the 6-foot-10 power forward declared for the NBA Draft in hopes that his raw potential would be enough to sway an NBA team to extend a contract offer. On draft night, Jerrett was granted his chance to prove the critics wrong as the Portland Trailblazers selected the big man with their 40th overall pick. Minutes later, Jerrett was shipped to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for cash. The forward is a better fit in Oklahoma City, as his shot blocking will add intimidation on defense, and his unparalleled outside shooting will help franchise star, Kevin Durant, spread out the floor on offense. However, in order to be a legitimate role player on this level, Jerrett must put on weight to help him compete with the strength of NBA players.
Grant Jerrett and Solomon Hill have been handed the proverbial torch of UA alumni before them, and they have all of the tools to make Tucson proud. Both prospects have landed in flourishing franchises that should grant them the opportunity to develop on the professional level. Though neither player will see immediate playing time, they will have the chance to learn from some of the best players in the business and to contribute to teams that will most likely be competing for a title come June of 2014. In fact, given the positions they play, there is a significant chance we may get to see one of these hometown heroes take a crack at the most difficult guarding assignment on the league’s biggest stage: LeBron James in the NBA Playoffs.