Breaking down Arizona basketball's new roster
It’s never too early to start thinking about next season for the Arizona Wildcats’ men’s basketball team. Now that Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson are likely headed to the NBA (they have until April 27 to pull out of the draft), next year’s roster is becoming clearer.
Most valuable player
Brandon Ashley’s value this past season became evident when he was sidelined for the remainder of the season with a foot injury.
With Ashley back in the rotation, expect head coach Sean Miller to take advantage of Ashley’s length and ability to stretch the court on offense. The fifth-year Arizona coach hinted during the season ending press conference that Ashley would be central to next season’s team.
In the 22 games Ashley played this past season, he demonstrated the most improvement and was even called the team’s best post-player by Miller. He is still wearing a protective boot on his foot and is limited to just shooting free throws, but come October the junior-to-be will probably lead the team on offense and be its most versatile defender.
The Wildcats’ fifth and final 2014 signee Dusan Ristic can either be next season’s dark horse or its biggest bust.
At 7 feet tall, Ristic brings needed length to an Arizona team that is losing 6-foot-9 Gordon to the NBA. Scouting reports say that 18-year-old Ristic is a tremendous post player with an above-average build. However, reports also say that his biggest weakness is his lack of athleticism and running in an open court.
If Ristic can prove to be a solid defender, he’ll get playing time, but how effective he’ll be on offense, with a team that loves to run and push the tempo, could be a factor in his efficiency.
There was a good amount of hype last season when 6-foot-10 Kansas transfer Zach Peters came to Arizona, but Peters was basically a black hole on this year’s team. He was the only Wildcat not to record a single point throughout the season.
Most improved player
Miller always says a player’s biggest growth comes between his freshman and sophomore seasons. And with freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson announcing his return, Wildcat fans should expect the high-energy freshman to make the leap from a raw athletic player into a more defined sophomore with a strong offensive game.
Last week, when he announced he was staying at Arizona, Hollis-Jefferson said he didn’t want to leave unless he thought he was going to be a top-10 pick in the NBA Draft, and he didn’t feel he was there yet.
If he can transform into that caliber of a player, whether he’s playing the three or four, will be huge for an already-stacked Wildcats’ roster.
Johnson wasn’t only one of the most talented players on Arizona, he was also its leader on and off the court. He took charge in directing the team from a player’s perspective. Now he’s gone and it’s point guard T.J. McConnell’s turn to take on that role.
Next year will be McConnell’s final season as a college basketball player. The redshirt senior will be in his third season with the program, and should know how to take the team in the direction Miller wants it to go.
Already one of the most vocal leaders on the court and in the locker room, McConnell should easily take over for Johnson.
—Follow Luke Della @LukeDella