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Arizona Basketball: Cats working hard to improve shooting from 3-point range

2013-08-08T00:00:00Z Arizona Basketball: Cats working hard to improve shooting from 3-point rangeBruce Pascoe Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 08, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Except for junior guard Nick Johnson, the Arizona Wildcats don't return a single player who shot better than 35 percent from three-point territory last season.

Technically, Brandon Ashley was perfect from three-point range, but he took only three shots compared to Johnson's 107.

They also can't yet count on consistent perimeter shooting from their incoming freshmen, with forwards Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson working on that part of their game, and guard Elliott Pitts needing more strength to get on the floor.

So guess what the Wildcats spent the better part of their summer doing?

"I don't think there's a college basketball program out of the 347 (in Division I) that has shot more than we have all summer," UA coach Sean Miller said. "We have put more eggs in that basket, to get game shots, game reps, to develop and teach. I believe we've improved as much as you can over a summer, but we also have guys that can shoot."

The key to Miller's optimism is in looking past who was taking all the game shots last season. He said guards T.J. McConnell, Gabe York, Jordin Mayes, Pitts and Johnson can all shoot well.

It's just that McConnell redshirted last season, York played sparingly, and Mayes took until the end of last season to find the pre-foot-injury form he had as a freshman in 2010-11.

Miller said even forward Ashley has worked hard this summer to expand his shooting range.

Then there's forward Zach Peters, whom Miller compares to the now-departed Grant Jerrett, who shot 40.9 percent from three-point range despite being 6 feet 10 inches tall. The problem is that the UA doesn't know yet if Peters will be healthy enough to play nor if the NCAA will waive the standard redshirt season for transfers by ruling Peters left Kansas for reasons out of his control.

"Zach Peters, to me, is part of the solution there," Miller said. "We don't know if Zach will be with us this year, but if he is, he's an excellent shooter for a frontcourt player. … I would say he's one of our team's best shooters."

While UA could opt to redshirt Peters regardless of what the NCAA decides, considering that the Wildcats already have Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski, Matt Korcheck and Gordon available up front, but Miller indicated he didn't want to.

"I don't think we've ruled anything out yet," Miller said. "But if he's cleared, he wants to play, and we can use him. He has a bright future. … It's just we want to make sure that he's healthy and we've done everything we need to do moving forward to make sure he's in a good place."

The 6-8 Gordon also has potential to become a good long-range shooter, considering that he does just about everything else well. He was the MVP of the U19 World Championships, after all - despite being only 17.

"When you have these types of expectations, many times the focus becomes what you have to do to be even better," Miller said. "In Aaron's case it's to transition and become strictly a perimeter player, to become a three-point shooter."

Not only is Gordon well-regarded publicly, but Miller said everybody he talked with who was involved with the U19 team "raved" about Gordon and his work ethic. Gordon came off the bench for the USA team yet led it to the U19 title.

Now Miller said he expects Gordon will split his time between both the power forward and small forward positions, as Solomon Hill did last season, even though Gordon has been labeled a natural power forward.

"He's an incredible athlete, a great rebounder; he can really handle the ball, and I think you'll see his shooting will continue to improve as he gets older," Miller said. "He's very unselfish. Anyone who's ever known him will tell you he's a team guy all the way around, and it doesn't surprise me that he accepted his role. His attitude is one of the many strengths he has.

"He's a hungry, willing learner. He works hard in the game, he wants to get better at all of those things he knows he needs to. We're excited about Aaron. We're excited about all of our freshmen, but in particular it's great to see somebody have the attitude that he has, and at the same time he's so talented."

Meanwhile, Pitts is up to about 180 pounds after arriving at UA in June at 170, Miller said, though he still faces plenty of competition for playing time in the backcourt.

"He's going to be a very good contributor," Miller said. "When that time comes from him - it'll probably be a little bit later than sooner - but as he continues to grow, I love his competitiveness. He has a high skill level, and I really believe in what he can do for our program."

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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