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Friday, August 22, 2014 | Last updated: 6:43am

Ashley improving his NBA draft stock



This year, it’s no secret that NBA scouts have sat in on the No. 1 Arizona basketball team’s games, keeping their eyes out for top talent for the next level.

Forward Brandon Ashley has been enjoying a breakout season for the No. 1-ranked Arizona men’s basketball team, and a lot of people noticed. This brings up questions as to whether Ashley and other team leaders will return as Wildcats next year, or declare for the draft to pursue their professional ambitions.

“We definitely have a good group,” head coach Sean Miller said during a weekly press conference. “We have a lot of players that have individual goals and aspirations to play beyond college, and rightfully so — that’s all part of coming to Arizona — but they back it up with a willingness to learn and a real eagerness to get better.”

Ashley, now a 6-foot-8, 230-pound sophomore, burst onto the scene last year and was one of two freshmen to log minutes in every game. He started 21-of-35 games and averaged 20.5 minutes, 7.5 points and 5.3 rebounds to complement shooting a .525 from the floor.

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Tyler Baker/ The Daily Wildcat Sophomore forward Brandon Ashley defends ASU sophomore forward Eric Jacobson during Arizona's 91-68 win over ASU on Thursday. Ashley has increased his average of blocks and steals per game this seasons.

This season, after an arduous summer that saw him bulk up, become more versatile and gain strength and agility, Ashley has been performing above and beyond expectations.

Thus far in his sophomore campaign, Ashley has started all 18 games and has seen his average points and rebounds per game increase to 12.1 and 6.2, respectively.

He is shooting with 53 percent accuracy from the field (up 0.5 percent) and has seen increases in his average numbers of assists, blocks and steals per game.

“Brandon Ashley is a more mature person off the court and in the practice setting,” Miller said. “He is also a more mature player in games. Brandon came to college a real young guy; he was 18 years old when he got here, and he’s 19 now. In my estimation, he has made leaps and bounds worth of improvement, whether it be on defense, on offense or physically.”

Miller went on to explain that this year Ashley is bigger, stronger, faster and “on the rise.” He added that Ashley worked very hard in the offseason, and as a result, knows more, is smarter and is an overall better player.

However, making the transition from college basketball to the NBA is rarely ever simple. Tough questions will likely come into play if Ashley decides to declare, such as whether he’s big enough to play the power forward, quick enough to play the small forward or in need of a better jump shot to succeed.

Ashley would benefit from another year in a competitive NCAA institution, though.

If Ashley wishes to succeed in the NBA, he will have to bulk up and work on obtaining a more consistent long-range shot.

Regardless of his future decisions, Ashley will most definitely be remembered for his contributions to a season that has already made history with a record-breaking 18-0 start.

—Follow Evan Rosenfeld @EvanRosenfeld17


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