Unquestioned leader Solomon Hill aims to lead Wildcat renaissance
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The first practices of college basketball season begin in mid-October, and Athlon Sports 2012-13 preview annuals have arrived on newsstands all over the country.
To prepare for the start of college basketball season, we will preview one team each weekday, counting down to the first official day of basketball practice on Oct. 15, or for some teams on Oct. 12.
We continue our countdown with a preview of No. 7 Arizona.
Three years after inheriting the debris from Lute Olson’s awkward retirement, Sean Miller has repositioned Arizona as a Final Four contender.
Even though the Wildcats were ahead of schedule, winning the Pac-12 and advancing to the Elite Eight in 2011, this will be the first season in which Miller has all the positive variables at work — size, depth, experience, pedigree and recruiting momentum.
“Don’t let anyone tell you this has been easy,” says Miller, who begins his fourth season at Arizona. “Some of what we put into place didn’t work and we had to try Plan B. In the end, you just hope it balances out.”
Arizona is balanced, if nothing else.
It completed the 2010-11 season a missed 3-point attempt from beating UConn and going to the Final Four. But it completed the 2011-12 season by losing at home to Bucknell in the first round of the NIT.
It signed what some analysts believe is the nations’ top recruiting class. But its image was shaken in ‘11-12 when junior forward Kevin Parrom was shot in a domestic dispute; freshman forward Sidiki Johnson was dismissed from the club for breaking rules; freshman guard Josiah Turner was suspended twice, arrested for extreme DUI and left school; and senior forward Jesse Perry was charged with felony domestic violence.
“I’m not going to walk around and act like everything’s OK when that happens,” says Miller. “But young people do make mistakes, and we’re constantly trying to educate them on the front end and make sure we have guys who know right from wrong.”
Senior Solomon Hill is the unquestioned team leader, an All-Pac-12 player who has volunteered to play out of position, at power forward, during much of his first three seasons. Now he’ll play only at small forward, Miller promises. Hill averaged 12.9 points and 7.7 rebounds, most of it coming on the interior. But in the offseason he lost 20 pounds and spent hundreds of hours working on perimeter shooting. Parrom, who has recovered from his shooting wound to his calf and from a broken foot, projects as one of the league’s top sixth men.
Arizona’s power forward and center slots will be manned entirely by underclassmen. Sophomore Angelo Chol, who has star power, is likely to double his minutes played from 12.1 as a freshman to 25 as a sophomore. He is a shot-blocker who runs the court well and plays with intensity. Chol is more suited for power forward, but where he plays will depend on the emergence of 7-0 freshman center Kaleb Tarczewski, the most highly recruited center at Arizona since Loren Woods in 1999.
Two McDonald’s All-Americans, 6-8 Brandon Ashley and 6-10 Grant Jerrett, will push for immediate time and a starting role under the basket. Both have shooting range to 20 feet and are mobile and athletic.
When Turner transferred to SMU, Arizona was left without a point guard — for a few weeks. Then Xavier senior Mark Lyons announced he would leave the Musketeers and play his senior season for Miller, who had recruited him to Xavier four years earlier. Lyons is eligible immediately after earning a degree at Xavier. Lyons’ experience is invaluable; he scored 1,194 points at Xavier and was a part of three Sweet 16 teams.
Sophomore Nick Johnson won’t have to swing to an unfamiliar point guard slot periodically this year. He didn’t shoot well as a freshman starter (.369) but was at times the best player on the court for Arizona. Miller says he expects Johnson to play at a much higher level this season.
Junior combo guard Jordin Mayes, who had a broken foot in the second half of the ‘11-12 season, will swing behind both Johnson and Lyons. Freshman Gabe York could be the club’s top 3-point shooter, vying for minutes behind Johnson.
The basketball environment in Tucson is such that expectations have returned to Olson-era levels. The acquisition of Lyons turned Arizona from a possible top-25 team to one that believes it can win a national championship.
“I’m excited to have his experience,” says Miller. “He’s one of the most competitive kids that I’ve been around, and I look forward to him sharing that senior mantel with Kevin Parrom and Solomon Hill.”
The development of four inside players — Chol, Tarczewski, Ashley and Jerrett — will determine if this team is good enough for the long haul. But they won’t have to be game-changers with Hill and Lyons running the show.
Athlon College Basketball Countdown So Far:
19. Notre Dame
15. San Diego State
14. North Carolina
11. NC State
10. Michigan State
8. Ohio State