PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas — From their perch this week in the Coral Towers of the sprawling Atlantis Resort, the Arizona Wildcats can look over the Paradise Lagoon and Royal Baths Pool to view a replica Mayan Temple.
Maybe you’ve seen it in the commercials. On the face of that “temple” is a 60-foot, near-vertical waterslide that, upon bottoming out, funnels riders into a see-through acrylic tube that journeys underwater through the middle of a shark-filled lagoon.
Sounds fun, right? Daring? A must-do?
The Wildcats won’t be having any of it.
Nor will many of their Battle 4 Atlantis competitors this week, where it’s about the business of playing three potentially tough games in three days, all in the name of building their résumés, experience levels and RPIs at this early juncture of the season.
Arizona’s journey will start Wednesday evening against North Carolina State and, on Tuesday, that was the primary concern of the ever-focused UA coach Sean Miller.
Water parks, white-sand beaches, conch and other seafood delicacies … none of it matters.
“They only have so much energy,” Miller said. “We did a community service project (Tuesday) morning which was really close to where Deandre (Ayton) grew up. … Other than that it’s so much about the focus of trying to be the best team and player you can be.
“Our guys will enjoy the scenery and Atlantis, but I don’t think we’ll be going up and down waterslides and things of that nature at this point. I hope not anyway.”
Several other coaches indicated similar strategy during pre-tournament news conferences Tuesday at the resort’s conference center, home of the 3,500-seat Imperial Ballroom where the games will be played.
In fact, SMU coach Tim Jankovich’s players already have that philosophy drilled in.
Asked how many times he might try out the slides at the resort’s Aquaventure park, SMU guard Ben Emelogu calmly dropped his head toward the microphone and issued one word.
“Zero,” he said.
While SMU will try to fend off Northern Iowa in the tournament’s late game Wednesday, with the winner getting to face the UA-North Carolina State winner on Thursday at 1 p.m., the Wildcats may need plenty of focus against an opponent with a drastically different size and playing style.
NC State has reinvented itself under first-year coach Kevin Keatts, who left UNC Wilmington and installed an all-out pressing style on defense that goes (and needs to go) 10 players deep.
He didn’t need to give his new players a hard sell.
“We’ve got a fun system to play in,” Keatts said. “It’s obviously trying to get them in the best shape that we can have them in. ... It’s a system where we try to get out and run and score as many easy baskets as we can. On the defensive end, we try to pick you up full court and try to turn you over, and turn those turnovers into points.”
So far, in four wins over mid- to low-major teams, the transition to that system has looked pretty smooth. NC State ranks No. 1 in opponents’ turnover percentage and its 11.5 average steals per game is the most of any power conference team so far.
“We knew it was gonna be a lot of hard work but the system was proven,” NC State forward Lennard Freeman said. “It turns people over. When Coach Keatts came here, I was all in.”
The fact that NC State plays a small-ball style, starting the 6-8 Freeman and four other players all 6-5 or less, will be another contrast. As Arizona has made painfully clear for its first three opponents, the Wildcats have two 7-footers — including surefire NBA lottery pick and native Bahamian Deandre Ayton, whose ability to guard smaller players will be tested.
Then there’s guard Allonzo Trier, who is averaging 30 points per game this season.
“Trier is obviously playing out of his mind, and they’ve got size,” Keatts said. “When I first watched (Ayton) on tape, I got scared. When you think about it, the young man has size, he runs the floor, he finishes well around the basket, he can step out and hit 3s.”
If Arizona manages to win this game of potential mismatches, the Wildcats will play again Thursday afternoon. And if they win that one, they’ll be in the championship midday on Friday, with a charter flight waiting to take them home afterward.
That won’t likely leave time for water-park fun. But it should leave the Wildcats with some lasting memories on the court, at least.
“This week is really going to challenge everybody, from an individual player to a coaching staff,” Miller said. “And when it all ends, you’re much more prepared for the things that are left on your schedule.”