With a roster predominantly made up of Californians, it can be difficult for an East Coast player to fit in and feel comfortable on the Arizona basketball team.
But head down to the Wildcats’ locker room in McKale Center and you’ll be able to hear a faint but bold chant intertwined with the West Coast lingo.
“P.A., P.A., P.A., P.A.,” freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson shouted. “We’ll start clapping our hands slowly then go faster and start chanting that, then we hug. Just to let them know we’re here.”
Small forward Hollis-Jefferson and point guard T.J. McConnell are the two players from Pennsylvania on the Arizona roster of 16. They also happen to be two of the loudest — perhaps most obnoxious — players on the team.
And everyone knows it.
“God, they can be annoying,” said Nick Johnson, a Gilbert, Ariz., native and the Wildcats’ shooting guard, with a smile. “No, they’re awesome and bring great chemistry to the team this year.”
This season will be both Hollis-Jefferson and McConnell’s first year on the Arizona roster.
McConnell, a junior, was a member of the Wildcats last year, but because he had transferred from Duquesne in Pittsburgh, he was forced to sit out the season. McConnell was born and raised in Pittsburgh. Hollis-Jefferson comes from Chester, Penn., which is just south of Philadelphia.
The Pennsylvanian connection doesn’t end with Hollis-Jefferson and McConnell. Head coach Sean Miller was born in Ellwood City in western Pennsylvania. Miller also made a name for himself as a point guard at the University of Pittsburgh in the late 1980s and 1990s.
“We make sure they know where we’re from,” McConnell said. “So far the connection has, I think, worked in the weight room, court, you name it.”
Both Hollis-Jefferson and McConnell are expected to play major roles on the UA team as soon as the season begins. McConnell will be Miller’s floor general and starting point guard. Hollis-Jefferson’s exact role has yet to be defined, but the five-star recruit should see plenty of minutes early in the season.
“We’ve been around this team long enough to know that one of the strengths of this year’s team is our freshman [Hollis-Jefferson’s] attitude, it’s really refreshing,” Miller said. He added about McConnell: “He has great familiarity, not just with our players, but our system.”
Miller went on to say in his season-opening press conference last week that the chemistry of this Arizona team is clearly strong. Teammates get along well with one another and “egos are checked at the door.”
Despite the many different backgrounds and accents that can be found in the Wildcats’ locker room, the strength of the players’ chemistry could propel Arizona to a quick start into the season.
But the Pennsylvanian connection might be the strongest.
“We can probably read each other’s minds,” Hollis-Jefferson said jokingly. “I definitely see us working well together on the court with our P.A. connection, but I think the whole team works really well together.”
— Follow Luke Della @LukeDella