The Arizona Wildcats finally have a full complement of frontcourt players, now that Kansas transfer Zach Peters was cleared for full contact Tuesday, just three days before the regular season tips off.
Well, that is, provided hard-driving freshman Aaron Gordon can successfully manage a groin injury for the long haul.
During a news conference in advance of the Wildcats’ season opener Friday against Cal Poly, UA coach Sean Miller said Peters was cleared after being treated cautiously in the preseason because of his concussion history — while also noting that Gordon must tread carefully with a “nagging” groin strain.
Miller said Gordon played in only 60 to 70 percent of UA’s scrimmage at Saint Mary’s on Saturday because of the injury, but that he did not expect Gordon to be limited Friday.
“It’s an injury that’s not all of a sudden going to go away,” Miller said. “What we’re trying to teach him is how to manage it. He’s chomping at the bit trying to be in every practice and be ready to play. But sometimes for us, giving him an extra day of rest and not letting him practice the entire time is going to help him calm down and be healthy for the long haul.
“He’s going to be fine with it, especially if we’re smart right now.”
Peters, meanwhile, can play Friday but may need some time to make a serious bid for the playing rotation. His first full-contact practice was Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s been a while since he’s played competitive five-on-five,” Miller said. “You don’t go from zero to 100. But it’s good for Zach, it’s good for our team, to have another player involved in what we do every day. Hopefully that will progress where he can help us at some point this season.”
Miller said it would “be unfair at this point” to judge what kind of role Peters might have before he began full practices, but the coach has previously suggested that Peters could help as a big man who can shoot from the perimeter.
“I think so he brings a skill set to the table that’s unique in that he’s a very good shooter, a very good passer and he’s physical as well,” Miller said. “It’s not like he’s just a 6-9 guard. He can throw his body around. He did it at Kansas briefly, he did it prior to going to college.”
Despite that physical mindset, Peters’ father, Tim, told the Star earlier Tuesday that he expected there would be no restrictions or hesitations with his son after he completed final post-concussion testing Monday in Pittsburgh.
“They took him back to a concussion specialist where he did not test well before and he did great this time,” Tim Peters said. “All three segments (memory, cognition, reflexes) are back. We’re excited because of what he did. It’s been a long year. He has worked really hard and now should be 100 percent clear.”
Peters’ road to Arizona has been difficult, to say the least.
He first suffered a concussion at a LeBron James camp during the summer of 2011, then another while playing high school football during the fall of 2011.
Peters then suffered a third concussion shortly after arriving at Kansas in June 2012, and although he played during the Jayhawks’ summer exhibition tour in August, Peters suffered a concussion in September and took another blow later in the fall while wearing a protective helmet.
By November 2012, Peters announced he would transfer from Kansas and returned home to suburban Dallas. He enrolled in classes at Collin College in Texas but could not take any heavy analytical courses because his brain wasn’t ready, Tim Peters said.
But by late January, Peters began testing normally on academics. He was cleared for physical activity in February by a concussion specialist in Dallas. Soon afterward, he began thinking about playing again, and committed to Arizona in May.
Upon arriving at UA, however, Peters also had to clear an NCAA hurdle, appealing to play right away by saying he left Kansas for reasons that were out of his control. Transfers normally must sit out an entire year-of-residence at a new school but Peters was cleared to play immediately just before full practices began on Sept. 27.
Tough road test
Miller wouldn’t say if Arizona “won” or “lost” its closed scrimmage last Saturday at Saint Mary’s, but all indications were that the Wildcats had their share of struggles.
Miller said it was a good learning experience to get away from McKale Center and the support of UA fans, then go into an empty gym at Saint Mary’s and play a good, NCAA-tournament-worthy team.
“The results I’ll stay away from, but it was an extremely competitive scrimmage,” Miller said. “We learned a lot about our team, we learned a lot about our freshmen. It was really good for all of us. We left that scrimmage much more prepared.”
The Moraga, Calif.scrimmage may have had the biggest impact on UA’s freshmen, who have been basking in support and publicity since arriving on campus last summer.
“Coming in from high school, you think things are going to be not as hard as they are,” junior guard Nick Johnson said.
“Definitely going there and seeing the (Saint Mary’s) talent and the way they play as a team definitely caught some of our young guys off balance.”
Forward Brandon Ashley said the scrimmage was also another chance to get used to the new rule changes favoring offensive freedom of motion.
Aaron Gordon named to POY watch list
Gordon was one of four freshmen named to the Oscar Robertson player of the year watch list. Gordon was also one of only two Pac-12 players on the 15-player list, joining ASU sophomore guard Jahii Carson.
The other freshmen on the list were Duke’s Jabari Parker, Kentucky’s Julius Randle and Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins.
Voted by the United States Basketball Writers Association, the Robertson award is one of several major player-of-the-year awards that also include the Wooden and Naismith awards.