Basketball Guide 2014: Talented freshmen will contribute to Arizona men's basketball

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Tyler Baker | The Daily Wildcat

Arizona forward Craig Victor (3), center Dusan Ristic (14), guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright (0) and forward Stanley Johnson (5) look on during player introductions during Arizona's annual Red-Blue Game in McKale Center on Oct. 18. The quartet of freshmen have a chance to make major contributions on this year's Arizona squad.

There is an old adage pertaining to college basketball: “Freshmen make highlights, seniors win championships.”

Last season, the Wildcats had some of the best newbies in the country with the likes of Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson regularly blowing up McKale Center, but they lacked a senior that saw any significant minutes and could provide late-game leadership when things got close. 

This season, they should have a little of both, and that could spell doom for the rest of the country.

By now, most Wildcat fans know senior point guard T.J. McConnell’s story, but it is also important to recognize the four newcomers that could be not only be providing critical depth but also playing major roles in potentially winning a National Championship.

Freshmen forwards Stanley Johnson and Craig Victor, point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright and center Dusan Ristic make up one of the better recruiting classes in Arizona men’s basketball, and head coach Sean Miller knows they are a major component to the team’s success this season. 

“You have an influx of new players that haven’t been here before,” Miller said. “There are five of them — including junior college transfer Kadeem Allen — that I think in their own right could potentially, it remains to be seen, make our team deeper than we would have been a year ago or even two years ago in some ways. So I think the quality depth with some of the new guys and the excitement of the returning guys blends together to give us a lot of optimism.”

While Allen will be redshirted this season, the four freshmen should all see playing time, with Johnson as a potential starter at the shooting guard spot vacated by Nick Johnson or, because of his versatility and size, even at the small forward position. Jackson-Cartwright gives Miller something he has rarely had while at Arizona: a competent backup point guard that can give McConnell a breather every once and a while. Victor and Ristic probably won’t be major contributors this season, but their added depth could be crucial as the year progresses. Ristic, a 7-footer out of Serbia, is an especially intriguing prospect, as he might already have the most natural offensive postgame of any Wildcat big men, including junior Kaleb Tarczewski.

Being responsible for the distribution of the ball and maintaining the flow of the offense, McConnell said he appreciates how well Miller has continued to recruit because it gives the senior point guard plenty of options to choose from.  

“Coach Miller does a great job of recruiting,” McConnell said. “Bringing in a guy like Stanley and everybody else he has brought in just makes a point guard’s job easier. It’s my job to get the cohesiveness together, and I think once we get that down, we’ll be all right.”

There is no doubt Johnson is the star of the class right now. According to most recruiting services, the 6-foot-7, 245-pound athlete was the best small forward coming out of high school and is regarded as a no-doubt lottery pick in the 2015 NBA draft. There will be a lot of weight on the young star’s shoulders this season if the Wildcats hope to live up to their preseason No. 2 ranking, but Johnson doesn’t lack confidence that he can do whatever the team needs him to do. 

“I think I can bring a lot of things to the team,” Johnson said. “I can facilitate the ball, ball defense. I can score the ball. I can bring confidence and attitude. I think I can bring some leadership, too, as a freshman. Whatever the team needs. I think I am the jack of all trades where I can fill in wherever the team is lacking.”

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