Guards Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Dylan Smith will join forward Rawle Alkins on the bench for Arizona’s first exhibition game Wednesday.
In a sense, that’s good news for the Wildcats — because nobody else will miss the game.
While noting that Jackson-Cartwright suffered an ankle injury last week and that Smith was suspended for Wednesday’s game against Eastern New Mexico for an unspecified violation of team rules, UA coach Sean Miller said Tuesday that “other than those three, everybody else will be available.”
That could indicate the UA has not found any healthy Wildcats took part in the NCAA violations that came to light as part of an ongoing federal case.
In a federal complaint that resulted in the Sept. 26 arrest of assistant coach Book Richardson and nine other college basketball figures, sports agent Christian Dawkins was quoted as saying that a current Wildcats player had already had received payments, “so we got no expenses there.” A player who received money from an agent, possibly through coaches, could face NCAA ineligibility for part — or all — of a season.
Miller would not answer a question about whether any of his players might be held out because of the ongoing investigations, but NCAA rules require programs to bench players immediately for all intercollegiate competition if they have violated rules. Reinstatement can be sought afterward.
Last season, Arizona guard Allonzo Trier sat out both of the Wildcats’ exhibition games and 19 regular-season games because of ineligibility resulting from a positive PED test.
In the short term, though, Miller’s options will be limited.
Without Jackson-Cartwright, who is expected to return Sunday against Chico State, Miller will play freshman Alex Barcello and Trier at point guard.
Similarly, without Smith and Alkins on the wing, Miller will lean on freshmen Brandon Randolph and Emmanuel Akot.
While Alkins is Arizona’s second-leading returning scorer (10.9) behind Trier (17.2), Miller said Smith — a transfer from UNC Asheville — has been one of Arizona’s top seven players in practice. Miller said Smith will be suspended for both UA exhibition games and the Nov. 10 opener against NAU.
“He’s quietly put together a really good stretch of practices,” Miller said. “There’s always an advantage for those who have played a season before or — in his case, practiced — all of last year. You think about who he’s practiced against, all the things he learned a year ago. That’s to his advantage early on and Dylan can shoot. He’s got good size. He can do a lot of different things.
“It’s very competitive at the wing position. We love Brandon Randolph, we love Emmanuel Akot. But Dylan ... sometimes you’re overlooked as a transfer but performance means the most and between those three guys, it will be interesting to see how it plays out.”
While Miller said Jackson-Cartwright’s injury is not nearly as bad as the high ankle sprain that sidelined him for a month early last season, the rash of inactive players is all too typical for the Wildcats at this time of year.
Last season, Trier, Chance Comanche (academics) and Talbott Denny (ACL) sat out Arizona’s exhibition games, while forward Ray Smith tore an ACL in the first exhibition and medically retired two days later.
With memories like that, even with a loaded team Sports Illustrated labeled the preseason No. 1 this week, Miller was in no mood to gloat about his depth during a news conference Tuesday.
“Every time since 2009, when that (Red-Blue preseason scrimmage) ends, you guys say, ‘This is the deepest team you’ve had. How are you gonna keep everyone happy?’” Miller said. “Usually, about five to seven days after the Red-Blue Game, you start to count ‘em up and say, ‘Man, hopefully they have enough guys available.’
“Because inevitably, injuries are a part of this and then you throw in the foul problems that occur in the course of a game, and you can never have enough depth.”
But the good news for Arizona is that there are plenty of minutes to throw around for those who are able to play, which will help them develop faster.
With Trier and Jackson-Cartwright out last year, Alkins and then-freshman Kobi Simmons benefited from increased playing time. Simmons fell out of the rotation in the late season after Trier returned.
“That’s always the silver lining when somebody goes down,” Miller said. “It sounds like that’s what the coach is supposed to say, but it gives young players especially an opportunity.”
Miller said he wasn’t sure how the UA’s starting lineup would look Wednesday, but said Barcello has practiced well lately and that Trier has continued to learn the importance of ball movement and other facets of playing the point.
While Alkins’ spot at small forward appears to be split between Randolph and Akot, the two played together in the Red-Blue Game and could do it again Wednesday.
Players weren’t available for comment Tuesday, and Miller has not allowed his freshmen to speak to the media since since they arrived on campus this summer. But the coach said Randolph and Akot could play a lot together in the future because their games fit together. Randolph is an aggressive scorer and Akot a rangy defender.
“They’re very different players and they can definitely be on the court together,” Miller said. “They complement each other exceptionally well. Emmanuel as a young player, his strength is what Brandon is working to improve and Brandon’s strength would be what Emmanuel is working to improve. I’m confident that both guys will add to that improvement.
At the same time, Arizona probably doesn’t have to worry too much about the competition.
Division II Eastern New Mexico returns six players from a 13-15 team last season. The Greyhounds lost an exhibition game at NAIA Arizona Christian 94-87 on Monday in Phoenix.
Still, Miller has made a habit of treating all exhibition games seriously and couldn’t help but point out Tuesday that Division II Seattle Pacific beat the Wildcats in a 2011-12 exhibition game.
“That feels like yesterday,” Miller said. “We tried to win that game and they were actually better than us.
“In these two exhibition games, to learn the most about your team, you want to put them in position to win. We’re gonna prepare as if we’re playing NAU. And it’s nice for the players to play in front of a home crowd, to have a chance to play against another team.
“At this point, no matter how much you try to make (practice) important, no matter how committed you are as a team, which we are, you want to play against somebody different. And that time is now.”