ESPN Analyst Jay Bilas talks UA, GameDay
Jay Bilas is a Duke Blue Devil through and through. He was a four-year starter for Mike Krzyzewski from 1983-1986 and coached under Coach K from 1990-1992, earning two national championship rings.
Bilas also earned a Duke law degree, further proving his allegiance to the prestigious university. But despite his ACC bias, Bilas’ level of respect for Arizona basketball is up there with any other program in the country.
“Basketball is how the average Joe associates excellence with the University of Arizona and that’s what it’s been, a program of excellence, since coach Olson took it over,” Bilas said. “Knowing some of the different Arizona players over the years, so many quality guys that the program’s put out. There’s a lot to be proud of.”
When Bilas steps foot in McKale Center on Saturday as part of ESPN GameDay’s crew, memories of coaching on the sidelines against the Wildcats will come rushing back.
When he sees Steve Kerr’s jersey in the rafters he’ll be reminded of his friendship with the man he called the “best 3-point shooter ever.”
When he catches up with legendary UA coach Lute Olson, he’ll remember when Olson attempted to recruit him to Iowa and the relationship the two developed.
“I knew him really well and still do,” Bilas said of Olson.
Bilas talked to the Daily Wildcat about his memories in McKale, his take on UA head coach Sean Miller and his love for rapper Young Jeezy.
On Arizona’s team this year: “It’s a good team. They’ve got some young guys handling the ball. Certainly last year if I remember right they won eight or nine games by four or five points or less. They’re not winning those games at the same rate this year. That shows you that even last year with the No. 2 pick in the draft the margin is pretty slim. I think they’re way ahead of expectations about where the program should be. I think Sean’s done a remarkable job getting that program back up and rolling. I think it will continue to go on the upswing with the quality of players he’s bringing in.”
On his memories at Arizona: “I was an assistant coach at Duke when we played there in the early 90s. That’s a while back. Lute Olson, I’ve known coach Olson since I was a junior in high school. He recruited me when he was the head coach at Iowa so I knew him really well and still do I guess. I always remember Arizona being just a great program. For a while they were calling them Point Guard U. When I was an assistant at Duke, we played Arizona and then Arizona went to the Final Four in 88 and that was the first time I met Steve Kerr. We came from kind of the same area in Southern California. He played in high school with a college teammate of mine. I really admired Steve and the way he played back then and in the NBA.”
On Sean Miller: “He can operate anywhere – on a basketball floor, in a boardroom, you name it he gets along with everybody. He’s demanding while at the same time allowing his players the freedom to perform. He’s trying to build a foundation of how to do things the right way every day and I think he’s doing a really job of it.”
On which UA player has the best NBA potential: “Josiah Turner’s got perhaps the most upside as a guard, or Nick Johnson, those two they’re really good players. There’s nobody on the roster where you say that guy’s a top pick. Obviously things have changed they’ve got really good players and they’ve got good balance. Jesse Perry’s really improved from last year. I was watching tape of him today. He’s really active and aggressive and he’s been much more efficient this year. Solomon Hill does a lot of really nice things out there. He makes plays and carries a big load for him.”
On the down Pac-12: “It’s kind of a different year in college basketball. The game overall is down, so it’s not just the Pac-12 that’s suffering. But nobody’s been hit as hard as the Pac-12. They’ve lost so many players to the NBA and across the board.. There are a bunch of really good coaches in the league and I don’t doubt that this is just a blip on the radar screen because a couple years ago when it was the Pac-10, the green room at the NBA draft looked like the all-conference team.”
On the best player in UA history: “All around it’s hard to beat Sean Elliot. You have Gilbert Arenas who was tremendous. He was only there for two years. I’d probably lean toward Sean Elliot all around. Best shooter no question about it was Steve Kerr. But I’d probably go with Sean.”
On who will win Saturday’s game: “I think that Washington’s more talented. I think they miss CJ Wilcox. They’re really good in transition. They’re not great defensively. They’re super talented. If Arizona takes away their transition I think the Wildcats have a really good chance to win.”
On Young Jeezy: “I listen to it. It’s good stuff. You’ve got to try it. You’ve got to branch out a little bit.
On his favorite song: “Of the TM 103 album I’d say it’s probably OJ.”
On if he and Jeezy have met: “Not yet. There’s something in the works. His people have talked to my people.”
On his Final Four picks: “I think the teams I picked to be final four teams before the season I’m not sure that I’d back away from as long as they’re healthy. I picked Syracuse, Ohio State, Kentucky and North Carolina. I don’t see any reason to back away from that although Missouri looks awfully tough, Kansas is getting better. Baylor is a really good team. There’s a bunch of good teams that can step in there if some of the highly ranked teams get knocked out first.”