LOS ANGELES - Only a hundred or so folks were scattered throughout Staples Center when the Arizona Wildcats held their public shootaround Wednesday, and one of them wouldn't think of missing it.
Former NBA and college coach John Carroll stood in the first row of seats, showing up like he has so many times this season to watch former player and protégé, Kaleb Tarczewski.
Carroll, who coaches the New England Playaz travel-ball team, was on hand a month ago in Los Angeles when the Wildcats were swept by USC and UCLA. He's also made several trips to Tucson, and watched them remotely whenever he can.
Always, he's available to talk, as is Tarczewski's mother, Bonnie, who moved to Tucson from New Hampshire temporarily for the basketball season.
"You want to keep it stable if you can," Carroll said. "I watch the games to see Arizona win, hopefully, and I watch it from the prism of what Kaleb is doing and is there anything I can see? I never want to do anything opposite of the coaches, but I just look for things like I can kind of talk to him about."
Lately, basketball hasn't been a problem.
Tarczewski has averaged 8.3 points and 7.8 rebounds in his last 10 games dating back to Feb. 17. Last weekend in two NCAA tournament games in Salt Lake City, he averaged 9.5 points and 8.0 rebounds while shooting 7 for 10 from the field.
Carroll said things changed after Arizona lost to Cal on Feb. 10, when Tarczewski played only 16 minutes and took two shots.
"Since that game he seems like he's really gotten into more consistent performance on the offensive end," Carroll said. "I think he's played pretty consistent defensively all year, but his numbers rebounding-wise and scoring-wise have been more consistent. But that's what happens when you've been with a team since June and you learn from good coaches. There's a progression."
Often, though, when Carroll and Tarczewski talk, it isn't about the game.
"Coach Carroll is a great guy who's helped me since I started playing basketball," Tarczewski said.
"He's kind of developed me into the person and the player I am today. Whenever I needed somebody to talk to, he's always there. He's a great coach and also a great friend. So it's really an honor and a blessing to have him around."
UA assistant coach Book Richardson, who has long known Carroll from the East Coast travel-ball circuit, said Carroll has been a father figure to the 7-foot center. It was Carroll who handled Tarczewski's recruiting when it became chaotic in the summer of 2011, with Kansas and Arizona battling for him, and it is Carroll who is there now.
"Kaleb's mother and father have been great but John's been a surrogate dad as a basketball person and influence in his life," Richardson said.
Bonnie helps by giving perspective, Carroll says.
"She's been great for him because she could care less whether Kaleb scores zero points or 20 points," Carroll said. "She's just glad her son is in college, getting an education, and he's happy."
Even though Carroll describes Tarczewski as a "level-headed kid, a great kid," he said it isn't easy to be 19 and in the high-pressure environment that is major college basketball.
Fortunately, Carroll said, that environment has treated Tarczewski well so far.
"He picked a school for the right reasons and everything he could have wanted in a school has played out," Carroll said. "He's got good coaches and good teammates."