Arizona men’s basketball team’s first game on Oct. 28 may seem far away, but it’s not too early for head coach Sean Miller to have an idea of what to expect.
More access to the players this summer has given him a chance to know them better and work with them directly. Summer practices have given players the opportunity to prove themselves on and off the court by taking classes and getting settled into the program.
The upcoming season’s squad has some new faces. Miller said five-star Scout.com recruit Aaron Gordon has the team player attitude.
“He’s really a hungry and willing learner, works hard at the game and wants to get better at all of those things that he knows he needs to,” Miller said.
Gordon will face high expectations as he attempts to transition from a strictly-perimeter player to more of a three-point shooter. The incoming freshman was named a preseason All-American by Sporting News, which ranked Arizona No. 5 in its preseason rankings.
Miller expects that the other incoming five-star Scout.com recruit, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, will complement Gordon’s abilities. From Chester High School in Chester, Penn., he traveled the furthest of any of the incoming freshmen.
Hollis-Jefferson won two AAAA state championships during his time at Chester.
The 6-foot-7, 205-pound small forward has long arms and plays bigger than his actual height, Miller said.
“He has physical gifts that make him a great defender,” Miller said.
Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson will be playing at more than one position, offensively and defensively. Gordon has the capability to play as both small forward and power forward.
The two could also fill in the holes left behind by recently graduated forwards Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom.
“Sometimes you forget how physically strong those guys were,” Miller said. “Both Aaron and Rondae, that’s their strength as incoming freshmen — their physical abilities. Some of that loss is negated by who they are athletically and physically.”
Miller said he expects the less heralded Elliott Pitts to be a big contributor this year as well.
“[Pitts] is somebody that isn’t talked a lot about. I kind of like that for Elliott because to me he’s going to deliver much more than people are talking about,” Miller said. “I really believe in what he can do for this program.”
The 6-foot-5 shooting guard comes from De La Salle High School’s elite program in Dublin, Calif. He is No. 93 in the 2013 ESPN 100 and is known to utilize the jump shot from all over the court.
The freshmen are not the only newcomers expected to contribute. Junior transfer T.J. McConnell will play point guard after sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules.
After being on the team for a year, he has a strong mentality to balance out the newcomers’ influence, Miller said.
Junior forward Matt Korcheck is a Cochise College transfer who redshirted last year. Korcheck’s role will be to come off the bench, rebound and defend.
“We don’t necessarily need Matt to be a big scorer, but we do need his physical ability,” Miller said.
Miller is also impressed with the development of returnees.
Sophomore forward Brandon Ashley’s range and ability to shoot the ball has improved, Miller said. Last season Ashley shot .525 from the floor and recorded a pair of double doubles.
Miller said he was also impressed with junior guard Nick Johnson. Last season he had 23 games with 10 or more points and earned an honorable mention Pac-12 All-Defensive team.
Miller said he believes he is a potential all-conference performer and is on the path to a great junior year.
If there is one thing the team has worked on the most this summer, it is perimeter shooting.
“I don’t think there’s a college basketball program of the 347 that have shot more basketballs than we have this summer,” Miller said.
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