From a memorable Duke defeat leading to an Elite Eight appearance in 2010 with NBA product Derrick Williams, to a disastrous season the following year, the Arizona Wildcats have seen a medley of ups and downs.
Without a doubt, losing a star player to the NBA draft is going to sting, and introducing rookies to the realm of college basketball life is more than likely going to be a bumpy ride. For the Wildcats, that ride is in the rear-view mirror.
Arizona begins the season at 2-0, and Tucson can continue to expect high-level performances from the Wildcats this season.
Let's look at why.
First up, senior wings Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom. They’re healthier and hungrier than ever before, and they’re determined to leave their legacy on Arizona’s basketball program.
Hill nearly had a double-double every game last season while owning the responsibilities as team leader. In crunch time, Hill was your guy. Guess what? He still is. He will make an even bigger impact out there as the season progresses.
Hill had 14 points and 5 boards in Arizona’s first game against Charleston Southern and on Thursday had 10 points and 6 rebounds against UTEP.
I expect Hill’s numbers to increase throughout the season. One thing he must remember is to attack, not hesitate.
If you have been following Arizona basketball, it should be obvious that Hill is in his zone. He used the offseason to his advantage to fully adopt a basketball mindset. Physically, he looks incredible. Not that he was in bad shape last year, but wow has he slimmed down, while still maintaining his muscular build. Opponents will have trouble getting through him this season and will find him difficult to guard.
As a developing athlete, Kevin Parrom is one of the strongest of all. He suffered a broken bone in his foot that cost him last year’s season, was shot twice at the beginning of that season and worse, lost both his grandmother and mother. He has worked incredibly hard to overcome those obstacles, and he has flourished.
“I’m one hundred percent, and I feel solid and mentally I’m back to where I was sophomore year, and I feel great,” Parrom said.
In full health, Parrom is ready to finish his college career as a Wildcat on a positive note.
Looking at statistics, Parrom is putting up numbers across the board. Even though those numbers are not in double figures, they prove that he is doing more than just one thing on the floor, and defense is one of them. He just needs to be careful with foul trouble as does the rest of the team.
Returning sophomore Nick Johnson is another player whose transformation is apparent. Last year, he struggled finding his shot out on the floor and often made poor decisions. But given his athleticism and the basketball knowledge permanently engraved in his DNA, he’s fully capable of learning and fulfilling the point guard role.
Aside from his speed and crafty dunks, Johnson is recognized for his hops. He may not be the tallest player on the squad, but the way he positions his feet and the rest of his body to elevate off the floor allows him to shoot over big guys.
As the season moves forward, Johnson needs to work on his consistency in shooting, especially beyond the arc, and his ball movement. He has the skills. He just needs to apply them.
Angelo Chol has given birth to arms of steel in the offseason and boy, did he need that badly. Given his tall, lengthy structure, it has taken some time for Chol to gain the muscle mass needed to be a high-caliber forward. He struggled on both ends of the floor last season and the Wildcats need him to protect the paint.
Chol has size and strength, but does he know how to use it?
In the 11 minutes he played in Arizona’s first game, he only had 2 points. No rebounds, no assists, no steals, and you guessed it, no blocks. In Thursday’s game against UTEP he had 6 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 steal.
It sure looks like Chol is still struggling to find himself and his role on the floor.
If coach Sean Miller expects one thing out of Chol, it is for him to be aggressive and in attack mode at all times. His job is to hustle from coast to coast, swatting away shots, grabbing boards and marking his territory all over the glass.
Perhaps the new size additions to the team are leaving Chol unable to establish his ground.
To assist the returning athletes, Arizona picked up some much-needed pieces including former Xavier point-guard Mark Lyons and rookies Grant Jerrett, Brandon Ashley, and Kaleb Tarczewski.
Let’s begin with Mark Lyons, who has made the biggest impact on the Wildcats thus far. Lyon’s has accumulated 34 points, 7 assists and 3 steals in the last two games.
The Wildcats desperately needed someone like Lyons to play the point, and he has been a beast at the position to say the very least.
In addition to his ability to shoot from anywhere on the floor, playmaking is his forte. Of course, he fits like a glove in the systematic basketball strategies of Sean Miller, but there is no limit in his athletic abilities. He anticipates plays, makes good choices, and overall, has a high basketball IQ. He also carries a New York type swag similar to what the Wildcats saw in Lamont Jones.
Lyons gives Arizona that extra boost in energy for sure and the team can expect tremendous things from him.
Where do I begin with Grant Jerrett, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski?
One word: size.
Those three are the reasons why Arizona was ranked third in the country in recruiting for 2012 and a contributing factor to why Arizona is ranked No. 12.
Tarczewski, a 7’0" center, is a huge addition to the team (no pun intended). Without looking at numbers he’s everything the Wildcats needed on the defensive end. On Thursday against UTEP he had 8 points and grabbed 6 boards. Scary thing is, he's only a freshman and has the potential to turn into a lethal athlete.
Jerrett, a power forward standing at 6’10", is making his presence known. On Thursday he had 7 points and 7 rebounds, but those numbers should increase.
Jerrett possesses versatile skill sets allowing him to execute his game anywhere on the floor. He can shoot threes and has established pretty good footwork and ball handling in the post. His size is definitely a plus, and his lengthy arms will come in handy throughout the season.
Off the bench is 6’8" freshman power forward Brandon Ashley, who has made a statement on the court in the last two games. When Jerrett and Tarczewski failed to really show up in Arizona’s first game, Ashley was there to take over. He had 12 points, 8 boards, and 2 blocks and on Thursday had 9 points and 5 rebounds.
If for any reason one of the two freshman starters, Jerrett or Tarczewski, continues to struggle, Ashley could very soon be given the opportunity to start for the Wildcats.
Arizona is fully loaded from the bench on up. The Wildcats have already displayed unselfish, team basketball so far this season. They will continue to excel in all areas on the floor.
This may be a bit of a stretch to some but Arizona might make a Final Four appearance this year, and three or more athletes could potentially hear their name called in the NBA Draft in 2013.
Be on the lookout for the Arizona Wildcats this season.