HANSEN

Greg Hansen: Arizona basketball's Cant-Miss Kids still making pitch for greatness

2013-02-16T00:00:00Z Greg Hansen: Arizona basketball's Cant-Miss Kids still making pitch for greatnessGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 16, 2013 12:00 am  • 

SALT LAKE CITY

They are rookies in your starting rotation, each touching 100 mph on the speed gun, each teasing you with a dazzling inning or two.

But when they are shelled in the fourth inning, your patience grows thin.

In an Arizona basketball sense, Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski are a bit the way pitchers Tom Glavine, Steve Avery and John Smoltz were when they arrived in the Atlanta Braves dugout a generation ago.

The potential comes first. The production, maybe, later.

But impatience rules. Why can't they be good now, with no intermediate stops, with no growing process?

In Arizona's four defeats, Ashley is averaging 6.7 points and shooting .396. In less troubled times, in 20 victories, he is shooting .541.

Tarczewski is a .506 shooter when Arizona wins. When it loses, he is shooting .400, scoring just 4.0 points. Jerrett's numbers predictably ebb when the Wildcats lose: 3.7 points and a .357 shooting percentage.

This is not unusual or unexpected, even at Arizona, where freshmen have at times been superb (Mike Bibby, 1997; Gilbert Arenas, 2000); and at times, flat (Jason Terry, 1996; Andre Iguodala, 2003).

After the Wildcats lost Thursday at Colorado, a game in which the Can't-Miss Kids combined to score 14 points in 48 minutes, and at times seem skittish in the heat of a Very Big Game, Sean Miller used an innuendo to signal that, hey, guys, it's time.

"Remember, high school's over and the race begins all over when you get to college," he said.

Miller joined that statement to a glowing endorsement of Colorado's 6-foot 6-inch freshman Xavier Johnson, who helped to bury the Wildcats with 19 points.

"I'm not sure he's not the best freshman in the conference," said the Arizona coach.

If the season ended today, the Pac-12's All-Freshman team would not include an Arizona player. It would include Johnson, ASU's Jahii Carson, UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad and Jordan Adams, and probably Utah's Jordan Loveridge.

Wasn't it supposed to be this killer freshman class that would return Arizona to power?

But there is an inherent danger in ranking freshmen in this league or any league. Carson is ASU's first option, given the ball and a green light in a decaying program. UCLA's freshmen are similarly a priority when the ball spins around the half court. Muhammad and Jordan have attempted 436 shots combined. UA's Ashley and Tarczewski, by comparison, have attempted 229 together.

Arizona's freshmen defer to Solomon Hill, Nick Johnson and Mark Lyons. Sometimes, if you watch closely, you can see Jerrett, for example, hesitate when he gets the ball, open and in range. It's a shot he probably buries 50 percent of the time in practice.

But when the lights are on and the pressure grows, he's shooting .376.

He didn't have that flash of apprehension a year ago, when he was a prep All-American, given the "go" sign almost anytime he touched the ball. Now, with a tick of hesitation, he probably wonders: Is Solo open? Shouldn't Lyons be taking this shot?

So far, in four setbacks, none of Arizona's freshmen have been able to fill the void on a night Hill is off (4 for 12 at Colorado), or when Johnson is having difficulty (2 for 8 against Cal).

After its NIT season of 2011-12, Arizona lost Kyle Fogg, Jessie Perry and Brendon Lavender and added Ashley, Tarczewski and Jerrett.

Who wouldn't have made that trade? Many worried that one (or more) of the freshmen would be one-and-done stars.

But now, 24 games into the season, it has become obvious that Fogg's ability to rise to the occasion, Perry's steadiness (he averaged 12.5 points with 7.5 rebounds per game) and Lavender's periodic ability to stick a game-changing three-pointer were under-valued.

As good as Arizona has been in a 20-4 start, the one clear net gain from 2011-12 has been Lyons, at point guard, replacing Josiah Turner, who was a poor shooter and only had 70 assists all season, a total Lyons has already surpassed.

That's why I continue to maintain that Miller has been the league's most effective coach, or no worse that 1-A with Oregon's Dana Altman.

Many of Arizona's variables are not impressive. Johnson has struggled mightily for two weeks. Kevin Parrom and Jordin Mayes appear to have peaked two years ago.

The Wildcats don't have a true point guard to orchestrate the flow, they don't have a go-to shooter, they seem to have lost their edgy approach, they're not a good transition team and, perhaps, the chemistry is wrong.

You'd almost think this team should be 15-9.

But before he left the Coors Events Center on Thursday, Miller continued to exude confidence.

"There aren't a lot of teams headed where we're headed," he said.

Know this about potential: In their first seasons with Atlanta, Smoltz was 2-7, Avery 3-11 and Glavine 2-4.

For Arizona, as with the old Atlanta Braves, the Wildcats are still trying to figure it out.

Contact reporter Greg Hansen at ghansen@azstarnet.com or 573-4145. On Twitter @GHansen711.

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


Pac-12 basketball standings

  Conference Overall
Team W L T PCT W L T PCT
Arizona 0 0 0 0.000 12 1 0 0.923
Washington 0 0 0 0.000 11 0 0 1.000
California 0 0 0 0.000 10 2 0 0.833
Oregon 0 0 0 0.000 9 3 0 0.750
Utah 0 0 0 0.000 9 2 0 0.818
UCLA 0 0 0 0.000 8 4 0 0.667
Arizona State 0 0 0 0.000 8 5 0 0.615
Colorado 0 0 0 0.000 7 4 0 0.636
USC 0 0 0 0.000 7 4 0 0.636
Stanford 0 0 0 0.000 7 3 0 0.700
Oregon State 0 0 0 0.000 7 3 0 0.700
Washington State 0 0 0 0.000 5 6 0 0.455

AP Top 25


Pac-12 basketball schedule

Teams Date Time
Harvard at
Arizona State
12/28 12:00 pm
Cal State-Bakersfield at
California
12/28 1:30 pm
Cal-Davis at
Washington State
12/28 4:00 pm
UCLA at
Alabama
12/28 4:30 pm
Stony Brook at
Washington
12/28 6:00 pm
Arkansas-Pine Bluff at
Stanford
12/29 9:00 pm
Cal-Irvine at
Oregon
12/29 9:00 pm
UC-Santa Barbara at
Oregon State
12/30 7:30 pm
Carroll (Mont.) at
Utah
12/30 7:30 pm
Vermont at
USC
12/30 9:30 pm
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