With the start of the new season closer in sight than the end of the previous year, there is a stark difference in build-up for the 2018-19 Arizona men’s basketball campaign.
This year, there will be no top three preseason ranking and the expectations of owning up to it. Gone is the “Final Four or Bust” mentality as well as the possibility of having a No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick on the roster.
It’s a sort of fresh start in which the only thing for players to focus on is just playing Arizona basketball.
Speaking for the first time since the double-digit loss to Buffalo in the NCAA Tournament, a few returning players don’t mind the lack of attention and hype the team has gotten this offseason.
“I know we’re under the radar,” sophomore guard Brandon Randolph said. “I’ve been under the radar my whole life, so this is nothing new. I love surprising people, and I think it’s going to be great.”
Another player who is upbeat about UA’s potential is junior Chase Jeter. The 6-11 center sat out last year after transferring from Duke, but from the bench he saw how returning players such Randolph, Emmanuel Akot and others grew over the course of the season.
“A lot of guys we have can really fill it up, can really score and can really play,” Jeter said. “And because of people’s roles last year, not everyone got a chance to see that. A lot of people will be in for a surprise with this year’s team.”
The starting five from a year ago have all departed, and the mass exodus gives way to a competition for playing time.
“Everyone is going to work their hardest just to fill those spots. Everyone is going to do what they do best and also improve,” Randolph said. “I think people are sleeping on us because all of them left, but we know what we need to do.”
Randolph’s backcourt teammate Alex Barcello says everyone is hungry for success after many returners only played sparingly last season. Players like Barcello and Randolph were used to being “the man” on their high school teams, so playing a reduced role gave them a needed change of perspective.
“I want to win, I want to win badly,” Barcello said. “No matter what role, I want to help this team win.”
As usual, the returners will have to take the newcomers under their wings, and the new Wildcats have made a good impression thus far.
Randolph, who lives with freshmen Brandon Williams and Omar Thielemans, says the incoming recruits and the transfers have come in ready to battle each practice, bringing a high energy level to workouts.
The starring cast for Arizona won’t have the typical A-list names, but that should allow everyone a chance to develop over multiple seasons. For the time being, the national spotlight has turned its gaze from Tucson, but these Wildcats don’t expect it to stay that way for long.
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