Except for their splashy Red-Blue Game celebration earlier this month, the Arizona Wildcats have pretty much kept the doors shut while preparing for arguably their most anticipated basketball season under Sean Miller.
But here are some of the traits the Wildcats have quietly been developing behind the scenes, according to the two players UA made available for interviews this week, guards T.J. McConnell and Gabe York:
They’ve been too quiet.
McConnell: “In the beginning, it was pretty quiet, but as the weeks have gone on everybody’s communicating well and starting to talk. It’s getting better. Nick (Johnson) has always been the guy to lead with his voice, I’ve picked it up and so has Gabe and everyone else.
“Surprisingly, the freshmen are always talking, Rondae (Hollis-Jefferson) and Aaron (Gordon). They have a swagger but they’re not cocky about it.”
The team has been physical and fast-paced, if not overly communicative.
York: “I feel like if we can have everyone buy into talking defensively and being able to trust one another defensively, I think the sky’s the limit for this team. We just have to be able to get there. The intensity is there. Our athleticism is there and we have all the right parts to be a successful team, but like T.J. is saying, we have to be able to talk. That’s the biggest thing for us.”
The Wildcats still get tired.
McConnell: “Judging by myself and others, I would say we need to get in a little bit better shape. I see we’re winded after we do a some drills, a live segment. Our conditioning will come. I’m glad we’re out of breath because that means we’re working hard.”
Defense has been the biggest challenge for York, who says it’s the key to his playing time this season.
York: “I’m definitely working harder defensively and I think I get more winded because of that and having to go on the offensive side of the ball after playing defense for 25, 35 seconds. You have to get used to it. Definitely defense. That’s the only thing I’ve been telling myself and that’s what Coach (Miller) preaches.”
The veteran guards are the team’s best defenders.
York: “If you want to talk about pack-line defense and steals, I would say T.J. (is the best). I don’t understand how he can read a pass like he does. But on the ball, I would have to say Nick because he can guard the one through the three. He’s strong enough to guard the three-man and he’s quick enough to guard the one.”
They don’t mind sharing the ball.
York: “We have a very unselfish basketball team. We all know there’s one basketball, and we trust T.J. Obviously he’s the point guard, and he runs the offense. He’s gonna run the right plays and get the ball to the right people. And if T.J. has the wide-open shot we’re going to give him the ball. That’s the way it’s hopefully going to be the whole year.”
They’re fun (well, sort of).
York: “We have had a couple of people fall and trip themselves. I would say T.J. is probably the one who gets hit the most and falls down. It’s fun sometimes but at the end of the day basketball is fun for all of us.
“Sometimes Coach Miller will make a couple of jokes before practice starts but once practice starts we’re all in the mindset that we have to get better, so it’s usually before and after. Unless someone falls over.”