Matt Babcock returns to the University of Arizona, his alma mater, to evaluate the Wildcats' current NBA prospects.
I was a walk-on and a member of the University of Arizona basketball team for the 2004-2005 season led by Hall of Fame coach Lute Olson. A team that went to the Elite Eight and featured star players Salim Stoudamire, Channing Frye, Hassan Adams, Mustafa Shakur, and Ivan Radenovic. Many years have passed since that season, and just about every member of that team has retired from playing professional basketball. Most recently, my former teammate, Channing Frye, retired after playing a praiseworthy 13 seasons in the NBA.
This past weekend, I returned to Tucson to check out this year’s basketball team practice and scrimmage. Although many things have changed since I was on that Arizona team years ago, one thing remains the same: there is some top-notch NBA talent.
Below are my preseason breakdowns of this year’s top NBA prospects on the Arizona team:
Position: PG | Height: 6’2” | Weight: 187 | Class: Freshman
One of the most highly touted recruits Arizona has ever landed, Mannion comes to Tucson with extremely high expectations. Don’t be fooled at first glance by the unassuming 6’2”, redheaded point guard; Mannion is a baller. A true point guard with a terrific feel for the game and an uncanny ability to make plays for himself and his teammates. He just might be the second coming of former Oregon Duck and NBA player Luke Ridnour, if not better. Despite his physical limitations — having only decent height and short arms — we will likely see Mannion at the helm of an NBA team next season.
Position: SG/SF | Height: 6’6” | Weight: 211 | Class: Freshman
Originally from Sydney, Australia, Josh Green is another top-ranked player for Sean Miller’s stellar recruiting class this year. Set to be the counterpart to Mannion in the Wildcats backcourt this season, Green is perhaps the perfect complement, possessing great size, strength, and athleticism, allowing him to defend three positions effectively. Besides being able to really elevate and finish above the rim in transition, Green does not have any other specific skills that he especially excels at offensively. However, he is a solid, well-rounded player that does a little bit of everything adequately on that side of the ball. All in all, he is a very good player that is going to help the Wildcats win games this year and certainly another prospect on the Wildcats’ roster hot on NBA teams’ radars.
Position: PF/C | Height: 6’11” | Weight: 237 | Class: Freshman
Whispers have been circulating throughout the basketball industry lately that Zeke Nnaji has been this year’s sleeper NBA prospect for Arizona and the most pleasant surprise early on in this preseason. I must say that I agree with those statements wholeheartedly. Possessing terrific size, strength, and mobility, Nnaji is capable of playing both the power forward and center positions effectively. He quickly impressed in the scrimmage with his apparent maturity, both mentally and physically. Nnaji is a solid, reliable player that plays hard and plays the right way. He has great instincts rebounding the ball and showed some potential of being able to shoot the ball from outside. Although not having the same lengthy wingspan, he reminds me of former USC player and current NBA player, Taj Gibson. Expect Zeke Nnaji’s name to start buzzing soon; I think his stock will be moving up quickly!