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The veteran point guard is gone, the star may play out of position again, and significant issues remain with defense and rebounding.

So why is coach Sean Miller so excited about opening full practices Friday with his Arizona Wildcats for his second season?

He has a bench.

That's right: If MoMo Jones turns the ball over at point guard, there's freshman Jordin Mayes. If Brendon Lavender's shot is off, there's freshman Daniel Bejarano. And if Jamelle Horne hits an inconsistent spell, there's junior college transfer Jesse Perry.

Everyone else is back, too, except point guard Nic Wise. So even though standout forward Derrick Williams may be stuck at center again, the Wildcats have enough quality depth to make life fun for their coaches.

"I think we have 11 or 12 players who all think they're going to play - and three of them are wrong," Miller said Tuesday, at UA's preseason media day. "That's a good thing - having that highly competitive environment and (having players) saying, 'I'm going to be ready to practice because if I'm not that's going to hurt my opportunity to play in the game.'

"I really believe we've been able to establish that in a short period of time, and players like Jesse Perry and Jordin Mayes and Daniel Bejarano should do nothing but help that."

Perry is expected to provide a boost at power forward - and maybe a fire under Horne - and Mayes and Bejarano may find time in the backcourt. Miller said Mayes has shown enough potential already to backup Jones at point guard, while Bejarano will be pushing Lavender for time behind Kyle Fogg at shooting guard.

"Daniel and Jordin, I think they're both going to make an impact right away," Fogg said. "They can both shoot the ball, so that's going to force the defense to guard them, and Jordin can really bring the ball up."

Even though full-length practices won't start until Friday evening, when teams are allowed up to 20 hours a week, the Wildcats already have gotten a pretty good feel for things during the limited workouts the NCAA allows in the early fall.

"We've already been competing like crazy, and it's a great atmosphere," Lavender said. "It's only going to make us better for this year."

It's been a particular eye-opener for Bejarano, who led Phoenix North High School to two state titles.

"Guys are bigger and stronger than me, and I'm just trying to compete with them," Bejarano said. "Kyle and Brendon Lavender are at the same spot as me. It's great because they've been here for a while."

Bejarano and Lavender may be in one of the tightest playing-time squeezes on the team at shooting guard because Miller is emphasizing offensive rebounding and two-point field goal percentage defense, two UA weak spots last season.

That emphasis means Miller may exclusively use capable rebounders Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom as small forwards instead of shooters. Perry, meanwhile, is slated behind Horne at power forward.

"He's similar to Jamelle in certain ways," Miller said of Perry. "Jesse can offensive rebound. I think he can put the ball on the floor easier than Jamelle. He's a capable shooter, though maybe not as advanced right now as Jamelle is … and (he's) not afraid to stick his nose in there and mix it up, which is a quality that we need."

Miller said Natyazhko's confidence has improved since representing his native Ukraine in the European under-20 championships this summer, though Natyazhko has been slowed lately by a sore back.

But even if Natyazhko and Jacobson don't develop sufficiently, Perry could give the Wildcats enough for a smaller three-man post rotation along with Horne and Williams.

Besides, it wasn't as if Miller could complain about the way Williams survived without a true center around him last season. At 6feet 8 inches and 240 pounds, the crafty Williams turned into the Pac-10's Freshman of the Year and is now an All-America team candidate.

"The challenge was on defense, where he was forced to guard players that were much heavier, much bigger than him," Miller said. With "how we use him on offense, I don't think I'd be a very good coach if I changed that a whole lot because of how much success he had."

On StarNet: Follow the Cats as the season approaches on Star reporter Bruce Pascoe's blog

Up next

• What: Red-Blue Game

• When: 1 p.m. Oct. 24

• TV: Webcast only