Maybe senior guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright can help Arizona make its first Final Four in 17 years, or even win the NCAA title, this season.

Or maybe the Wildcats will be derailed by the same sort of injury and off-court issues that have dogged them the past two seasons and fall short of college basketball’s final weekend, again.

Either way, Jackson-Cartwright knows now, more than ever, that it isn’t life or death.

He’s seen what that looks like firsthand.

While many of the Wildcats were assembled in or near their team hotel in Barcelona when a terrorist plowed a van through a nearby area on Aug. 17, Jackson-Cartwright said he was walking only “a few feet” away as the deadly drive began.

As panic struck, Jackson-Cartwright ducked into a store and hid for 45 minutes. He then returned to the hotel having, in some respects, a different mindset.

“Definitely,” he said. “It shook up a lot of people, including us.”

In an interview at McKale Center last week, Jackson-Cartwright described the attack, Arizona’s trip to Spain and the team he’s now taking a leadership role on, along with fellow veterans Dusan Ristic, Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins. Here’s what he said:

  • At the time of the terror attack, Jackson-Cartwright said he was roaming around the city with his sister, nephew and parents, all of whom accompanied the Wildcats on their exhibition trip to Spain. It’s a rare UA game, anywhere, that doesn’t have Jackson-Cartwright’s parents in the stands.

“We were walking into an area where they came, and after a few seconds of calm, you hear a bunch of people running,” he said. “It was packed. Maybe 100 people started running around us and (you’re) just hiding because you don’t know what’s coming.

“We got separated in different stores along that area and after about 45 minutes, we went back to the hotel. … The margin of error was really (small).”

  • Overall, though, Jackson-Cartwright said the Spain trip was valuable for a team with seven new players.

“We had a great time being in each other’s company. I value friendships, relationships, so for me that was really important,” he said. “We toured basically all of Spain, it felt like, and we went through Barcelona on a Segway. Once you get on, you’ve gotta find your balance, but it was fine.”

  • Since their return home, Jackson-Cartwright said the Wildcats have continued to improve. UA is now holding practices up to two hours a week and will expand to full-length practices on Oct. 1.

“We don’t judge ourselves based on those games (in Spain) but by our practices at this point of the season,” he said. “I think everyone’s gotten better since the Spain trip. The freshmen have come along and the older guys are getting better. I think the sky’s the limit with this team. We have a lot to look forward to.”

  • As a freshman in 2014-15, Jackson-Cartwright stepped onto another highly rated team, one that included current contracted NBA players T.J. McConnell, Brandon Ashley, Kadeem Allen, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson and plus pros from other leagues in Gabe York and Kaleb Tarczewski.

“That team was uniquely special, with Rondae, T.J. and Stanley, a lot of talent. But I think this year’s team has a lot of talent, too,” he said. “We’re really deep and young. But you can’t compare teams; you just have to take who you have and do your best.”

  • While the 2014-15 Wildcats were ranked No. 2 in the AP and ESPN Top 25 preseason polls, this team is already the consensus No. 1 pick in preseason college basketball annuals (the AP and ESPN polls have not yet been released). There’s a lot of hype, again.

“I think it’s important to not to block that out but stay focused on the process and also we’re counting on guys like myself and Allonzo and Dusan, guys who’ve been here longer, who know rankings this early don’t really mean anything,” he said.

  • Jackson-Cartwright said he expects that group to form a committee-style of leadership this season, after Allen established himself as Arizona’s clear leader last season.

“I think every year is different when you talk about leaders,” he said. “This year I think it comes from multiple guys, myself, Allonzo, Dusan. Even Rawle, guys who have played in big games, and know what it takes to win and how hard it is to win each night. Everyone has a voice.

“I’ve tried to step up and relish that leadership role in the preseason, just trying to be more vocal and lead by example, showing the young guys how we do things around here and what it takes. I hold myself accountable to do those things like Kadeem did a year ago.”

  • Not only does Jackson-Cartwright have a ton of scoring options around him, allowing him to focus on being more of a “glue guy,” but the Wildcats also have a number of players who can back him up at point guard. The way UA coach Sean Miller has described it, that could include freshman combo guard Alex Barcello, versatile 6-foot-7-inch freshman Emmanuel Akot or even Trier, if he slides over from shooting guard.

“Coach has mixed it up. He’s tried a few different things at that position,” Jackson-Cartwright said. “It would be a different look each time. Emmanuel is 6-5, 6-6, so his vision is going to be spectacular, and he plays with great pace and changes speeds really well. Alex, same thing: His vision really has been surprising, and he doesn’t turn the ball over. He makes good decisions and he shoots it really well. Allonzo has great pace and he can put the pass right in a person’s hand.

“We run a lot of things where you can kind of interchange and move guys around one through three. Whoever has the ball at the point can make great decisions.”

  • Jackson-Cartwright has already played in 99 Arizona games over three years — he and Ristic are on pace to become the Wildcats’ winningest players ever — but said it sometimes it doesn’t seem like that many.

“Yeah, it’s crazy. You play basketball for so long but it goes by so fast,” he said. “It’s going to be bittersweet playing this last year in front of these great fans, with great teammates. It’s going by fast.”

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