Life after the freshman trio: An early look at the 2020-21 Arizona men's basketball roster
Forward Ira Lee (11) drives past a UC Davis player during the game on Saturday, Dec. 22 at McKale Center. Arizona won 70-68.
After a month of waiting around for the expected announcements, Arizona men's basketball freshmen Nico Mannion, Josh Green and Zeke Nnaji will declare for the NBA draft. The final domino fell on Friday, April 10, when Green made his announcement to end his college career and prepare for the NBA draft this summer. Nnaji was the first to make his decision back on March 28 followed by Mannion on April 7.
The Wildcats now have nine players on scholarship with the rest of those vacant roster spots expected to be filled by either commitments or graduate transfers. Here’s a breakdown of what Arizona’s 2020-21 roster looks like right now.
One of Arizona’s weaknesses last season was its number of ball handlers. The offense consistently struggled when Mannion was out of the lineup due to the lack of a true point guard available off the bench.
Head coach Sean Miller will have a few options to choose from next season with Brandon Williams and Georgetown transfer James Akinjo, assuming Williams can fully recover from his lingering knee injury that damaged his freshman campaign and kept him out of the 2019-20 season.
Arizona also added Seattle grad transfer Terrell Brown, totaling to the Wildcats’ backcourt. Brown averaged 20.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists for the Seattle Redhawks last season while shooting 41.5% from the field. One of his most intriguing stats and one that Miller is probably most excited for is his 5.9 free throw attempts per game, converting on 78.4% of them. Brown is an aggressive slasher whose game is specialized inside the arc.
Freshman Dalen Terry could also be an option at point guard, but because of Arizona’s current lack of size and depth at the wing position, Terry will most likely occupy the small forward position with freshman Ben Mathurin next year.
The Wildcats will also have Jemarl Baker returning next season, who averaged 5.7 points off the bench last season.
Arizona will have three returning players — Ira Lee, Jordan Brown and Christian Koloko — rotating through the power forward and center positions next season. All of them are reliable interior defenders, with Koloko being the most exciting of the three, as he finished with 25 blocks, three shy of being the team leader — very impressive considering his limited amount of minutes last season.
Lee will be relied on a lot next season as the anchor of the team with his hustle and contagious energy that he has displayed over his first three years in Tucson.
Brown will make his Arizona debut after transferring from Nevada and sitting out the 2019-20 season due to NCAA eligibility rules. Miller and the rest of the staff have had their eye on the 6-foot-11 forward since his days as a McDonald's All-American in high school. Brown committed to Nevada a week before his scheduled official visit to Arizona back in 2018.
The projected starting lineup
- PG: James Akinjo
- SG: Brandon Williams
- SF: Dalen Terry
- PF: Ira Lee
- C: Christian Koloko
As of right now, this team figures to be the middle of the conference team. Its lack of shooting and interior offense will most likely be the biggest headache for the Wildcats next season.
Lee, Brown and Koloko have yet to prove themselves as reliable scoring options and Baker’s shooting numbers depleted as the season went on. Williams shot 31.8% from three in 2018, but his knee injury during that season could certainly be the blame for his shooting struggles. Brown wasn’t much of a shooter at Seattle either, shooting just 29.1% from beyond the arc at 1.9 attempts per game.
Baker’s late-season slump could also be due to fatigue as he saw a significant increase in usage from his freshman season at Kentucky to his sophomore year at Arizona, jumping from averaging 9.1 minutes to 19.3 minutes during that span.
This will not be the final roster for the Wildcats as Miller will undoubtedly continue his recruiting efforts for the remainder of the offseason. While the 2020 recruiting class is beginning to close out, Arizona still has its name linked to a few of the remaining recruits that haven't made their college decision yet.
Potential roster additions
A player that could instantly change the outlook of this team is five-star recruit Ziaire Williams. The McDonald’s All-American would slide right into the starting lineup as small forward, allowing Dalen Terry to be utilized more loosely by playing the one, two and three position. He is an elite scorer with his 6-foot-7 frame and above average athleticism. Williams, one of the nation's top recruits, is set to make his decision on Easter Sunday.
The most realistic possible commitment seems to be four-star shooting guard Kerwin Walton. Walton was a former teammate of Nnaji at Hopkins High School in Minnesota and included Arizona in his top six along with Creighton, Georgetown, Minnesota, North Carolina and Vanderbilt. 247Sports describes him as a “high level shooter who can hit shots off the catch and pull. Not a specialist but three-point shooting is best attribute.” According to Jake Weingarten of Stockrisers.com, Walton is expected to set his decision date for April 25.
What once was a respectable list of potential graduate transfers has now quickly thinned out due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Arizona had their name in the running for a couple different players in the transfer portal, but those athletes have since committed to other schools.
The Wildcats have reached out to San Francisco grad transfer Charles Minlend and have reported to be in Minlend’s final seven schools, according to Jeff Goodman of WatchStadium.com. The 6-foot-4 guard was named All-WCC Second Team after averaging 14.4 points and 4.7 rebounds a game. While he won’t help Arizona’s lack of shooting after only making 30.3% of his threes last season, he adds reliable scoring to a roster that is in dire need of it. Other potential schools on his list include Butler, BYU, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Indiana and Gonzaga.
Purdue big-man Matt Haarms is also on Arizona’s radar after averaging 8.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks a game. The Wildcats would certainly benefit from his 7-foot-3 frame as Arizona’s current roster only contains two players taller than 6-foot-8. His top 10 include Arizona along with Arkansas, Boston College, BYU, Gonzaga, Kentucky, Memphis, Minnesota, Texas Tech and UNCG.
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