UA basketball fans catch a glimpse into future
Tyler Besh / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Arizona fans may have caught a glimpse of the future for the Wildcats in the final eight minutes of Saturday’s 74-50 win over USC.
Freshman guard Gabe York, who hadn’t played in a game since a victory over Miami on Dec. 23 and has only played in nine games this season, hit 2-of-5 shots from beyond the 3-point line against the Trojans.
York and sophomore forward Angelo Chol have not seen ample minutes through the first half of the season in head coach Sean Miller’s rotation, thanks to a logjam of players at both the guard and forward positions.
York is stuck behind senior Mark Lyons, sophomore Nick Johnson and junior Jordin Mayes, who have all been through at least one season with Miller. Lyons practiced every day for Miller while redshirting at Xavier in 2008.
Chol is jammed behind the freshmen trio of Grant Jerrett, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski, all of whom are more polished offensively. Chol was regarded as a “raw” offensive player with shot-blocking potential, coming out of high school.
“They’re definitely two very talented players,” Ashley said. “On any other team, I feel like they’d be getting major minutes. We’re such a deep team. It’s hard for everyone to get in the game and play a huge role.”
It doesn’t make it any easier for Chol and York that the Wildcats have played in so many tightly contested games, especially against Florida, Colorado and San Diego State. Such games make it hard for Miller to stray from his rotation of eight trusted players.
Arizona’s depth has been a double-edged sword for players who may not be receiving the minutes they believe they deserve. On one hand, Arizona’s experience means it has a legitimate shot to beat any team it plays. On the other hand, it means that players like York and Chol will have to wait their turn to receive those minutes.
“If you fast-forward to a year from now and think about who we lose and the role [York] can have…” Miller said, “I think it made all of us feel good.”
Chol has seen more playing time than York. He has played in every game this season, aside from games against Oregon, ASU and UCLA. However, his minutes are down from 12.1 last season to 8.3 this season.
Considering that Arizona (17-2, 5-2 Pac-12) has won almost every close game it has been in, no matter the fashion, it works out for Chol, who just wants to win. In a meeting in Miller’s office last week, Chol expressed as much to his coach.
“Angelo wants to play,” Miller said. “He said, ‘Coach, as long as we’re winning, you never have to talk to me.’ Some guys may say that and as soon as they leave, they’re on a different path. Angelo is really on that path.”
Part of York’s transition to the collegiate level has been adjusting to guarding much bigger, stronger and more experienced players, a weakness for him because of his small stature. At 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, York is one of the smallest players on the court on any given night.
“It’s just repetitions,” Miller said, when asked about what York needs to do to improve defensively. “He’s not a big guy, so he needs to be in the right place at the right time.”
So, Miller has had many conversations with York about how to make the most of his playing time, even if it comes in the final minutes of a 24-point victory, as it did Saturday.
By all accounts, the talks are working. Miller said that York is in “a really good mindset,” and he has improved by “leaps and bounds.” Against East Tennessee State and USC, the most recent games in which York has played more than two minutes, he hit two 3-pointers in both games.
“The way your break through in [York’s] situation is to have a game like tonight and make everyone see that ball go through,” Miller said. “It was great to see him shoot the ball like he did. He’s a big, big part of our future.”