Arizona Wildcats' depth, experience could be invaluable
2015-16 UA basketball season preview
Arizona Wildcats forward Stanley Johnson, shooting over Wisconsin’s Josh Gasser, now plays for the Detroit Pistons after just one year as a Wildcat.
The last time Arizona played a basketball game, March 28 against Wisconsin, the school produced a 60-page information packet on glossy 8x11 paper that must have been generated by an HP Designjet Z5200 3D Genesis XXX.
Let’s just say it was first class.
I attempted to absorb all of the data after a Sweet 16 victory over Xavier, but time was short — 48 hours — and the print was so small that it has taken all summer and into the fall to get up to speed.
The cover of the postseason media guide was an artist’s touch-up — caricatures, really — of the 2014-15 UA team in road-red uniforms. Sean Miller looked more like Tom Hanks than Sean Miller.
Kaleb Tarczewski came off as Mini Me. Elliott Pitts resembled Matt Damon with a black goatee. In the middle of the team photo is walk-on guard Jacob Hazzard, who customarily sits on the end of the bench.
Did anyone realize the 6-foot, 160-pound Hazzard wears jersey No. 50? Isn’t that generally worn by a power forward or 7-footer? Isn’t it like a tailback wearing No. 73?
None of the details from that wonderful 34-4 season escaped my weary eyes.
The basketball players and coaching staff at USC would be humbled if anyone, large or small, took time to brush up their mug shots and print a small encyclopedia about their exploits.
It ain’t happenin’. Fight on.
It is a testament to the modern era of Arizona basketball that the school was able to print so much data in such a short time. Let’s see Arizona State do it. (Of course, the Sun Devils’ postseason media guide wouldn’t require 60 pages; maybe six.)
My point is this: The more I read, the more I realized that the 2015 Elite Eight was not the stopping point for Arizona basketball. Those larger-than-life figures who have since departed Tucson — T.J. McConnell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley and Stanley Johnson — are not irreplaceable.
Life goes on.
Arizona will be really good again. Maybe really, really good.
The 2014-15 media supplement highlights the “bests,” but I was looking for the less-than-bests. Not everything the Wildcats did worked. They were no more perfect than the 35-3 Wildcats of 1988, who left the season in a puddle of tears after Steve Kerr shot an incomprehensible 2 of 13 in the Final Four.
Hey, the ’14-15 team didn’t even get to the Final Four. Wisconsin’s Deadeye Dekker saw to that.
In four bigger-than-life career games against UCLA, McConnell shot just 39 percent. He was no Gilbert Arenas.
In a shocking loss at Oregon State, Ashley made just two baskets and collared a mere three rebounds. He was limited to five points by a bunch of Beavers whose names you can’t spell.
Mr. Shimmy, the likable Hollis-Jefferson, wasn’t exactly a shooting threat. In 36 Pac-12 games, he made exactly two three-point shots.
Johnson’s warmup season before the NBA draft included a 1-for-12 shooting night against Ohio State, a 1-for-9 performance against UCLA and a forgettable night in Corvallis, Oregon, when he scored just seven points in the aforementioned loss to the Beavers.
By the time the Wildcats open the regular season Nov. 13 against Pacific, Stanley, Rondae, T.J., and B-Ash — we did seem to know them on a first-name basis, after all — will be the Forgotten Four.
As it has been almost every year since Lute Olson won the school’s first Pac-10 championship 30 years ago, the Wildcats have successfully reloaded.
For one season, 2015-16, I would prefer to have fifth-year power forward Ryan Anderson over Cal’s impressive freshman forward, Ivan Rabb. Anderson has played 2,942 minutes in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Rabb has a more welcoming pro basketball future, but Anderson has the command and confidence (and four years in the weight room) that’ll help him shake off a slump, rowdy fans and a bad night by a referee. Those are things Rabb has yet to learn.
Given the temporary nature of college basketball, I’d also choose to have fifth-year senior Mark Tollefsen over any of those returning on ASU’s front line. Tollefsen has made 384 field goals as a collegian, for the San Francisco Dons. He has played three games against Gonzaga in The Kennel.
He will not be wide-eyed.
Tollefsen will absorb many of the minutes Johnson played a year ago. More than Johnson, Tollefsen will know when NOT to shoot, and that you can’t jog back on defense or let your classwork get the best of you. Tollefsen is a grad student.
In a game increasingly taken over by first-year and one-year players, Anderson and Tollefsen are fifth-year players. They are a different kind of One and Done. Their value is just as high, maybe more.
When Anderson signed with Boston College, and Tollefsen with USF, in the spring of 2011, Sean Miller had just exited the Elite Eight, one bucket shy of the Final Four. He is still looking for that bucket.
Anderson and Tollefsen are up next.