Rawle Alkins had some fun with his broken foot Friday evening, motoring a scooter on the floor during Red-Blue scrimmage introductions, and maybe now his teammates can, too.
As it became clear during the Blue’s 55-37 win over the Red on Friday, the Wildcats have some pretty good alternatives to turn to during Alkins’ early season absence.
Freshman guard Brandon Randolph emerged as an obvious possibility to replace Alkins in the starting lineup at small forward.
In fact, he’s already done so: Randolph scored 21 points off the bench in UA’s first Spanish exhibition game in August, then started in place of Alkins when he injured a shoulder and couldn’t play in the team’s second exhibition game.
Randolph proved himself again Friday, scoring 16 points in the Red-Blue Game using a combination of aggressiveness and athleticism. Randolph shot 5 for 11 from the field and got to the free-throw line for a team-high six attempts, making five shots.
Randolph also won the pregame dunk competition.
“Brandon’s very explosive on the offensive end and continuing to develop defensively,” UA coach Sean Miller said. “As we continue to implement our system, Brandon is one of those guys you want to free up to score because he does it so naturally.”
Then there’s the flip side: Freshman wing Emmanuel Akot went 0 for 6 from the field Friday but dished four assists without turning the ball over.
He may already be the Wildcats’ new defensive stopper. And, as Miller has made clear over his eight previous seasons at UA, if you can play defense well, you will play a lot.
“He’s as good of a defensive player as a freshman that we’ve ever had — and I don’t say that lightly because of Aaron Gordon, Rondae (Hollis-Jefferson), Nick Johnson and then as guys like T.J. (McConnell), Kadeem (Allen), Kyle Fogg grew older, those guys really embraced the defensive end,” Miller said.
“They were terrific defenders. Emmanuel’s kind of like that now. A lot of freshmen don’t think that way. It takes some maturity to realize defense means something but he’s very mature in his thinking.”
Miller said he thinks Akot will be able to regularly guard the opposing team’s best perimeter player, which Allen did last season. Offensively, Akot can slip into any number of positions.
The 6-foot-7-inch, 200-pound Akot can fill in for Alkins at small forward, but Miller may experiment with him at power forward in some situations.
“There’s so many teams now that play small, and we want to have that capability,” Miller said. “And with Rawle being out, that also gives us chance to play with a third perimeter player.”
Akot can play point guard, too.
“When he’s out there he’s one of our best passers regardless of what position,” Miller said. “Emmanuel’s blessed with unbelievable court vision. He’s kind of like a point guard even when he’s not the actual point guard out there.”
All that makes Akot and Randolph “very different players,” Miller said, yet both are not only potential starters but also first-round NBA draft prospects.
ESPN’s early 2019 mock draft has Akot at No. 14 and Randolph at 19. Draft analyst Mike Schmitz spoke highly of both prospects while attending the Red-Blue Game.
So did junior Allonzo Trier, the guy who will be playing alongside Akot and Randolph on the wing until Alkins returns. Asked about Randolph’s game, Trier spoke of others, too.
“I think he’s a great young guy, really talented as all of our freshmen are in different, unique ways,” Trier said. “He’s another guy who’s going to be implemented well into this basketball team and he’ll do a lot of good things for us.”
Arizona’s freshman class also includes near-certain 2018 lottery pick Deandre Ayton, who threw down 21 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the Red-Blue Game, along with guard Alex Barcello and forward Ira Lee — two other players Miller went out of his way to speak highly of Friday.
Barcello had two points, four rebounds, three assists and two turnovers Friday despite Miller saying “nothing is to your advantage” when you’re a freshman point guard playing in the Red-Blue Game. Miller also praised Lee’s athleticism and rebounding ability, after the freshman forward had nine points and six rebounds.
Together, Miller said UA’s freshman class could be “maybe be our overall best freshman class,” and Alkins’ absence also suggests they’ll have a faster chance to develop, too.
Alkins and Kobi Simmons had a chance to grow quickly as freshmen last season, when Trier sat out UA’s first 19 games because of a positive PED test.
Simmons wound up signing a two-way contract with the Memphis Grizzlies, while Alkins returned to school after playing well in the NBA predraft combine.
“It’s a shame (Alkins) broke his foot, but the silver lining is I think some players are getting more repetitions, more attention in practice,” Miller said. “My hope is we can welcome Rawle back sometime in December and sometime the players are a little bit more advanced. That happened to us a year ago.”