Williams' exit pushes Cats to spread wealth

Depth, interchangeable players help offset loss of top scorer to NBA
2011-11-07T00:00:00Z 2014-07-24T10:20:19Z Williams' exit pushes Cats to spread wealthBruce Pascoe Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
November 07, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Arizona's shocking win over Duke in the NCAA Sweet 16 last season featured a virtual Derrick Williams highlight reel in the first half and a preview of life without him in the second half.

Williams blew away the Blue Devils - and NBA scouts - with 25 points before halftime, hitting 5 of 6 three-pointers and dunking the ball at will. Then, in the second half, the Wildcats kept Duke from making it a game with a versatile attack that featured just about everybody else.

After halftime, the Wildcats went on a 19-2 run, shot 58.3 percent, had highlight-reel dunks from Jamelle Horne and key shots from MoMo Jones, Kyle Fogg and Kevin Parrom. They spread the ball - and the minutes - around.

In a best-case scenario, that's what the 2011-12 Wildcats will do also. Instead of winning with 28 points and 12 rebounds from Williams, they may win with six guys scoring 11 points each.

Arizona also may win with a big lineup featuring Kyryl Natyazhko at center and Solomon Hill at small forward, or with a small lineup featuring three guards, Hill at power forward and Jesse Perry at center.

Whatever works.

"If you can pinpoint a weakness right now, it's that you really don't have that one player you're saying is going to get 18 points a game or whatever," Miller said before the preseason.

"And that's fine. There's a lot of different ways to win."

Miller doesn't have Williams, who became the No. 2 NBA draft pick with Minnesota, or Jones, who transferred to Iona in May, or Horne, who ran out of eligibility.

But Arizona does have more depth and more versatility, so much that the Wildcats are still considered a favorite to win the first Pac-12 season - although Cal, Washington and UCLA are also favorites in some projections.

The difference this time: Instead of having two players at every position, as he did last season, Miller has a roster of players who can all play at least two positions, except possibly Natyazhko and Alex Jacobson.

Here are some of the interchangeable parts Miller can use this season:

Point/shooting guard

Highly touted freshman Josiah Turner is big and capable enough offensively to play the shooting guard, but that would be a waste of his abilities. He's a pass-first point guard, the kind that fits Miller's system well, as opposed to the shoot-first Jones, whose bravado sometimes was more commendable than his decisions.

"Josiah's different than the other guys in that I would consider him a pure point guard," Miller said. "He plays that one position and he plays it well. … I have great confidence in Josiah. I think he's a terrific talent and I think getting a pure point guard is something that's not easy to do and to me that's what he is."

While Turner faces the immense pressure of being a freshman assumed to take over Arizona's marquee position, he doesn't have to start right away. The Wildcats already know sophomore Jordin Mayes is capable, especially considering the way he played in the NCAA tournament last season after splitting the point guard role all season with Jones.

Mayes had a respectable 1.6-1 assist-turnover ratio and hit 45.3 percent of his three-pointers, including a streak of 10 threes that extended into the NCAA tournament.

Mayes' smooth offensive game is so valued that he will spend time at shooting guard this season, too. And, while he missed most of the summer recovering from a foot stress fracture, Mayes came back stronger. He weighs almost 20 pounds more than the 180 he played with last season.

"Some of the things he dealt with as freshman on defense, wearing down, he solved by having a good offseason," Miller said. "He's a bigger, stronger player, and he also doesn't have to play just the point guard. He can play with a point guard, which gives us more depth."

Shooting guard/small forward

For the fourth straight year, you could argue that Kyle Fogg's minutes are in danger, but that might be a mistake.

Since breaking out as an unheralded freshman in 2008-09, Fogg has started 85 of 104 games over his three-year career. So if highly regarded Nick Johnson and Mayes threaten him for time, that may only elevate Fogg's game further.

"It's been great," Fogg said of the early competition. "I knew having a great player like Nick Johnson coming in would make it tough every day in practice."

Johnson may be the Wildcats' most athletic player, which is expected to translate into both eye-opening dunks and solid perimeter defense.

"Jumping has always been my gift," Johnson said, "but we definitely have a lot of options as far as scoring and playmaking ability."

And if Johnson and Mayes are too good to keep off the floor, or if Miller determines there's an advantage to exploit with a smaller lineup, he can move Fogg to small forward.

Senior Brendon Lavender is another possibility, having proven valuable off the bench last season with his shooting touch. Among his most memorable moments: Lavender had seven points and three assists in UA's triple-overtime win at California; and eight points and a steal in seven minutes against Texas in the NCAA tournament.

Lavender's shooting is "an asset every team would love to have," Miller said.

Small forward/power forward

Kevin Parrom has the shooting and versatility to suggest he also can play shooting guard, although he has played mostly small forward in his first two years at UA and has the toughness to battle inside when needed.

But mostly, Arizona just wants him to play. Parrom was shot in the right leg on Sept. 24 and his return timetable was uncertain at the beginning of full preseason practices. He also had to deal with the mid-October death of his mother following a long bout with cancer.

"We're always trying to make sure he is in a good place, not just physically as he makes his comeback but also emotionally," Miller said. "That's hard for any of us, let alone for someone who is 21 years old. We're preparing really for both, to have him and not to have him."

Solomon Hill shared small forward with Parrom last season but has the versatility to play inside, as well as passing skills that aren't often seen in a 6-6 player. Hill averaged 8 points a game last season, but Miller said Hill can impact the Cats in ways far beyond scoring.

"I think his progress won't just be felt in one statistical area," Miller said. "He's always given us a lot of things as a player, and that well-roundedness is what we want him to do better more than any single stat.

Power forward/center

It almost seemed silly to describe Derrick Williams as a "center" last season, but he often had to at least guard one. So will guys such as Jesse Perry, Angelo Chol and Sidiki Johnson if they play there at times this season.

That's because there's no guarantee how much the Wildcats can count on Kyryl Natyazhko, the 6-11 Ukrainian junior.

While Natyazhko made steady improvement last season - and pleased Miller by contributing outside the box score during the NCAA tournament - the Wildcats are preparing again to go small at center if needed.

Besides, Sidiki Johnson is strong tough-minded player whose comfort level around the basket belies his 6-8 height, and Chol has both an improving face-up offensive game and a knack for shot blocking inside.

The Wildcats also have an intriguing option with Perry, who shared power forward last season with Horne but said he's also been preparing for both small forward and center this time around. Perry is only 6-7 but has 220 pounds and, like Parrom, a willingness to trade elbows around the basket.

Then again, it all gets easier if Natyazhko, and perhaps Alex Jacobson in spots, provide the Wildcats with the option of going big.

Miller is counting on it, at least.

"I don't think we're expecting Kyryl to be an all-conference player right now," Miller said. "Maybe one day he will be, but I do think we all are counting on him to be better and more instrumental in what we do. We need him to be able to play more minutes."

The big men could provide yet another dimension for a team that just might change styles between games and even within them. That is, for those who look quickly enough.

"I think our high-scoring and fast-paced offense" will be exciting, said Jacobson, the longest-tenured Wildcat player. "We have a lot of different weapons this year. Everyone will be contributing."

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


AP Top 25


Free Wildcats Sports Newsletter

University of Arizona sports news and blog headlines, delivered daily

Follow the Arizona Daily Star

Deals, offers & events

View more...