The Arizona men's basketball team has pretty good expectations both within and outside the program as they were picked fourth in the AP Pac-12 preseason rankings. While fourth may not tickle anyone's fancy when it comes to basketball at the University of Arizona, for a team that has not made the tournament since 2018, a fourth-place ranking could be considered with respect.
Still, a team with lots of talent could use at least one star player, an anytime-bucket-getter, a backbone and consistent figure that will be there every night of the season.
Second-year international player Bennedict Mathurin is propped up to be that said player. Coming off an extremely efficient and impressive freshman campaign where he averaged 11 points and five rebounds on 47-42-85 shooting splits and proved he has the body profile and athleticism to be a tier one on-ball wing defender, Mathurin won’t be sneaking up on anyone this season.
Being selected to the Pac-12 preseason first-team shows he has respect from the media and the opposing coaches will game-plan accordingly with that same respect and attention.
In the offseason, Arizona and Tommy Lloyd had quite a scare when the coaching change was in the middle as there was a chance that Mathurin wouldn't return to Tucson for his second year. Mathurin had the opportunity to enter the NBA draft, where he could have possibly been selected in the second round, or he could have transferred to a ready-made program for a March Madness run to showcase his talents, but he stayed. He committed to Lloyd, Tucson and the University of Arizona.
Mathurin was clear about what brought him back to Arizona for another season.
“I like the culture that the fans bring, I think it’s amazing to walk around campus and people know your name or jersey number and that you play basketball," Mathurin said.
It won't just be Arizona fans watching in McKale Center who will know who number zero is once this season gets underway.
As a freshman, Mathurin had an extremely smooth shooting stroke and had the potential to develop into more of an on-ball creator for himself with more off-season work. The on-ball creation for himself and secondary playmaking will be a key factor in his scouting and development for the NBA draft as he can shoot over smaller guards and has such a quick first step.
Mathurin spoke a bit about his work in the off-season and how he just wanted to get better.
“I really tried to work on being better at shooting off the dribble as well as my ball handling, those are two areas that I felt needed the most improvement so I put in the most work there," Mathurin said.
Think of the many prolific wing scorers in the NBA who Mathurin shows flashes of. The smoothness of his shot-making is like Zach Lavine, Devin Booker, Bradley Beal and even Paul George, with long arms and the build to be a swing player on the wings. Mathurin said he sees himself in some of these as players as well.
“I like to try to model my game after Bradley Beal and Devin Booker," Mathurin said.
Mathurin is two inches two taller than Booker and four inches taller than Beal and has a little bit of bulk on both of them at this stage in his career. It is completely reasonable we will see a scoring prototype like those two this year but in a wings body with Mathurin.
The scoring at any time along with the defense will be needed for Arizona this year as two-way stars and confident players have shown to be the ones that take their teams to the next step in March Madness, and Mathurin and his teammates have their eye on that prize specifically.
“My team goals for this season are to uplift the team as a leader and make sure we do all that we can to win a Pac-12 championship, go to March Madness and shock the world," Mathurin said. "A personal goal of mine is to be the best player I can be and be the greatest teammate a player could ever have."
If Mathurin and company can take these heightened expectations and turn them into reality in Lloyd's first season, he and his teammates will be quickly and newly touted living legends on the Arizona campus. An accomplished season like that will take Mathurin to the end goal he has always dreamed of, an NBA lottery pick, where Mike Schmitz of ESPN has him projected before this season has already begun.
Mathurin has already been thinking about his NBA plans after the season. He said he knows what the process will consist of and how to form a postseason plan that can add another Arizona name to the NBA brotherhood.
“Just like I did this past year, I sat down with my family and coaches, we gathered as much information as possible and then made the best decision that we could," Mathurin said. "I think that worked well so I will probably do that again after this season.”
Arizona, meet your next basketball star, Bennedict Mathurin.
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