Matt Korcheck knows the magnitude of Arizona basketball in the Old Pueblo.
He wasn’t born in Tucson, but he’s lived here since eighth grade. Plus, Korcheck played high school basketball at Sabino and two years of junior college ball at Cochise College.
Before he came to the UA, he’d seen what a raucous McKale Center looks like.
Though it was mostly from the comfort of his own home.
“I watched a lot on TV,” Korcheck said. “I didn’t really go to too many of them.”
“But,” he added, laughing, “I probably shouldn’t have said that.”
Last year, he watched every game at McKale, and had courtside seats — he sat out the season after transferring from Cochise.
“Last year was definitely beneficial for me,” Korcheck said. “It was a lot of hard work, but I learned a lot and I’m ready to give it a shot this year.”
So, throughout Arizona’s Sweet 16 season, Korcheck was a practice player.
Day in, day out, he went up against a 7-foot Kaleb Tarczewski, 6-10 Grant Jerrett and a 6-8 Brandon Ashley.
It’s a far cry from his days at Sabino, or Cochise. There aren’t too many Tucsonans towering from 7 feet.
So for the first time, the 6-10 Korcheck had to actually look up at one of the people he was guarding.
“I was always the biggest guy,” Korcheck said. “So coming here and practicing against Kaleb and Brandon and Grant, they’re big. They’re very skilled. It helped me develop a toughness and helped me develop a real good mental attitude because I had to stay focused on a day-to-day basis. I couldn’t just dominate because I was bigger, I had to find a niche.”
And he did, his teammates said.
“He’s easily, one of the most energetic, intense guys I’ve ever met in my life on the court,” Ashley said. “He gives it his all, 100 percent every play of practice and to go against somebody who’s that big, that strong and that intense, it’s really helpful. It’s definitely good to have somebody at his talent level.
“He could’ve gone to plenty of other colleges that wanted him, and played. But he chose here, so it was big.”
Korcheck knows minutes won’t exactly be readily available in the frontcourt. The Wildcats lost Jerrett to the NBA, but added 6-8 freshman phenom Aaron Gordon and a 6-10 Zach Peters, a transfer from Kansas.
Still, Korcheck has embraced his role — fill-in big man off the bench, and hardworking practice player to keep Arizona’s post men on their toes. Korcheck probably will get some turns this year, but Angelo Chol’s 8.5 minutes per game tally from last year is probably his ceiling. Chol transferred to San Diego State in the offseason.
“He’s there to help us win games,” coach Sean Miller said of Korcheck. “To sub in for a fatigued player, to sub in for a player who’s in foul trouble. He allows our team to have more depth.
“I also think he has the right attitude and mentality for the role we have. It’s not as if he’s begging to play 35 minutes a game. He’s very content with being a contributor, helping us win and having a solid role that we can count on.”
Added Korcheck: “I’m not the most skilled guy out there, and I know that, but it’s easy for me to give effort.”
Korcheck knew that would be the situation when he made the decision to come to the UA.
It was still a no-brainer.
Out of Sabino in 2010 —as a three-star recruit — he committed to play for Tim Floyd at UTEP.
Then he backed out, and chose to play at Cochise College for two years.
Fast forward to April of last year, and Korcheck was sitting in psychology class at Cochise.
His phone starting vibrating, he pulled the phone out of his pocket and saw “Sean Miller” flashing on the screen.
“I just excused myself,” he said, “and ran outside.”
Korcheck received interest from several major schools, including Pittsburgh, Marquette, Missouri and Oklahoma. But when Miller offered him to chance to play at the UA, the choice was easy. Now, Korcheck is just the 12th Tucsonan to make UA’s roster since the Wildcats joined the Pac-10 in 1978-79.
“In the back of my mind, I was waiting for that call,” Korcheck said. “And once I got it, I made up my mind right then. It’s a dream come true.”