"Zeus" thunderous for Arizona men's basketball
Talented 7-footer showed potential in first preseason game
In Arizona’s first preseason game of the season, a 108-67 rout of Division-II Humboldt State, the most impressive player on the court was, not coincidentally, also the tallest one.
Seven-foot, 255 pound freshman Kaleb Tarczewski towered over the much smaller Lumberjack frontcourt, and he utilized his height advantage to score a game-high 18 points on 7-for-9 shooting and snag 10 boards.
From the opening tip through all 24 minutes the freshman center played on the court, Tarczewski rose above the opposition and showed the potential he can bring to Wildcats this season.
“Whether he made the shots or not, you can tell that if he gets the ball in and around the basket he can score, and I can see it on a daily basis,” head coach Sean Miller said after the Humboldt State game.
After relying on a starting frontcourt of a 6-foot-7 player in Jesse Perry and 6-foot-6 Solomon Hill last season, Arizona now has the size in the interior it previously lacked.
With Tarczewski, fellow freshmen bigs Grant Jerrett (6-foot-10) and Brandon Ashley (6-foot-8) and the natural development of Angelo Chol (6-foot-9), the Wildcats now present a force inside the lane.
“It just makes our job easier,” sophomore guard Nick Johnson said.
“We get the ball down there and they create shots for us. Everybody thinks point guard or shooting guards create shots for the bigs, but they’re the ones getting doubled down there … That’ll start creating shots for us.”
Tarczewski came to Tucson with a lot of potential and praise — he was a five-star recruit and ranked No. 4 overall by ESPN.com.
As good as he was against the shorter defenders on Humboldt State, though, Tarczewski struggled in the Arizona’s annual Red-Blue game. He went 0-for-5 in the first half with just one rebound and three fouls in seven minutes of play.
Tarczewski finished the game with 10 points, but needed 12 shots to do so. Senior guard Mark Lyons said the 19-year-old was nervous during the game, so Lyons told him to relax, because it’s a long season.
“You got to stay with the process and keep getting better,” Lyons told him. “Don’t get distracted by the outsiders, it’s about the people inside the rectangle.”
Johnson said he teased Tarczewski about being nervous before Humboldt State, but Wednesday the big man played the way he’d been performing all preseason.
“We see him every single day in practice, and we know he’s a big body and he can score in the post with the best of them,” Johnson said. “He had a tremendous game [on Wednesday.]”
Concerns about a 7-footer’s adjustment to the college game aren’t without merit. Take, for example, Arizona’s last big in Kyryl Natyazhko.
The 6-foot-11 Natyazhko arrived in Tucson as the No. 39 player in ESPN.com’s rankings in 2009, but he never realized his potential.
After averaging just 1.7 points per game in his Wildcat career, Natyazhko left the team after last season to pursue a professional career overseas.
Even if it takes time for Tarczewski to adjust to the pace at the college level, Miller said he has the intangibles he needs to improve every single day.
“The most impressive thing about Kaleb is his attitude and who he is as a person. He is really unselfish, he’s a willing learner … he’s really hard on himself,” Miller said. “But he wants to do well and he also has a mean streak to him which is a good thing that allows him to be physical. I think for him, a lot of great things are going happen because where he is today, he’s only going to get better because he works so hard at it.”
Tarczewski came onto the scene later than most, since he started playing basketball in middle school, Miller said. But his natural gifts and desire to get better were why he had so many elite schools after him on the recruiting trail.
“Guys like him are difference makers,” Miller said. “He’s a willing and hungry person to get better and he’s on a quest to continue to do more, to do better. And when you’re his teammate you really appreciate that.”
Who: Chico State (exhibition)
When: Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.
Where: McKale Center
How to watch: Live stream on Pac-12.com