The number of stars attached to a recruit’s name doesn’t inherently mean success awaits, but for the Arizona Wildcats, especially after landing 2019’s best (or second best) point guard Nico Mannion, Sean Miller is hoping to revive a tradition lost to an entire generation.
Known to most in the social media era as A Players’ Program, the Arizona Wildcats were once considered Point Guard University. A place where the nation’s very best distributors were trotting about collegiate hardwoods donning Arizona uniforms (mostly taking place during the Lute Olson era).
Since Olson has retired, it’s not like the Wildcats have failed to land quality point guards. It would be unfair to suggest such a thing, as there’s been plenty of good ones donning Arizona colors over the years, but none hit campus with as much hype as Mannion will next year.
Mannion is either the best or second best 2019 point guard. Depending on which reputable recruiting service website you enjoy visiting, it’s either Cole Anthony or the 6-foot-3 son of a former Golden State Warriors player.
From the perspective of entertainment, this idea of Mannion and Anthony being somewhat connected is thrilling. It’s a scenario usually reserved for unrealistic movies. Both sons of former NBA players — with Cole’s father, Greg, the more famous of the pair — with each being hailed as the next big thing, it conjures images of a yesteryear when magazines like SLAM used to hurl and tout tomorrow’s next big stars on their covers.
Hell, for Cole Anthony, he’s already received such acclaim, as the New York Post, SLAM and other high profile outlets have done massive features on him before he’s even committed to a program. On the other hand, despite grassroots gurus believing Mannion is as good, if not better than Anthony, Nico is not nearly finding the same level of national exposure.
Anthony is from New York. New York point guards are the stuff of legend. People earnestly enjoy romanticizing the idea of a kid in the city becoming the next great whatever. There’s been dozens and dozens of those — not all of them living up to the hoopla — but it’s a college basketball tradition to praise NYC point guards regardless of merit.
Mannion is from Phoenix. A fine place for sure, a city that’s hosted a Final Four recently, but not exactly a location filled with basketball lore compared to the Big Apple. While not fully fair to the city, or the player, it’s the reality of the situation. People simply have more fun enhancing the mythology of New York City point guards than giving credence to those on the outside.
However, with Mannion heading to Arizona, it becomes a slightly different conversation. After all, the Arizona Wildcats are Point Guard University. There’s a history and a tradition of excellence, if not downright domination. Nico Mannion is ‘the’ 2019 point guard. The discussion is about to change, going from all the Cole Anthony promotion to a more balanced outlook for the 2019-20 college basketball season.
To be Camp Crystal Lake clear: This isn’t to say which player deserves more praise before playing a second of college basketball. According to most accounts from those in the know, both players are worthy of the acclaim. It’s only that, at least from a national standpoint, Anthony has garnered far more appreciation than the Arizona commit.
That changes now. The marriage between Arizona and Mannion inserts him in the national conversation, even if he previously deserved to be there from the start.
In a perfect world, Anthony commits to a program that will play Mannion when both are freshman. There’s a chance each only spends one season playing college basketball, and with the drama that would come with a head-to-head battle, it would be a shame to never witness the country’s best two point guard prospects confront one another in front of a national audience.
The two being intertwined, even if they never face each other, will likely be the story of their freshman season’s regardless if they see each other on the hardwood. The NBA once had the LeBron James-Carmelo Anthony debate when both were rookies, and while the former has easily surpassed the latter in all-time rankings, Anthony’s career forever remains connected to LeBron’s hip. A similar thing could happen with Anthony and Mannion.
College basketball is a sport as embedded and popular due to narratives as it is about the product itself. It’s not just about who won against who and by how many. It’s about perception fist-fighting reality… all while the community declares subjective winners and losers.
In the middle of September, not all that far removed from the FBI debacle, the Arizona Wildcats have won. The program won on the recruiting trail. Sean Miller won the right to employ Nico Mannion 14 months from now. And, at least for the time being, Point Guard University can be declared as back.
No pressure on Mannion to live up to all those wild expectations or anything.
Joseph Nardone has been covering college basketball for nearly a decade for various outlets in a variety of ways. You can follow him on Twitter @JosephNardone.
Don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter below.