If there's a close call to be made, Sean Miller doesn’t always reveal his starters before games. But as he went on another extended compliment of Grant Jerrett during his news conference today, I asked him if it was safe to assume the freshman big man would start in UA’s exhibition with Humboldt State on Wednesday.
“Yes,” Miller said.
Miller backed off his remark somewhat by saying he really would only pencil in Solomon Hill for sure at this point but it’s obvious he’s impressed with Jerrett so far after summertime workouts, two full weeks of practice and a productive showing in the Red-Blue scrimmage.
“Grant has a way of being able to defend. He has great length. He’s a good rebounder. And he’s really solid in the low post,” Miller said. “He’s clever, and excellent passer. When he catches the ball you just feel like something good is going to happen, and that can be anywhere on the court including the free-throw line which for a frontcourt player to make free throws like he can that’s something that helps you win games as well.”
Miller is also impressed with Jerrett’s makeup.
“Grant, his greatest gift, and he reminds me of Derrick Williams (in this), is that he has no external expectations,” Miller said. “When we talk to him you never have to remind him that he’s still in college, that this is his role, to preach `team’ because you worry about him thinking about other things.
“He only does what he’s told. He goes to class, he works hard, he listens, he’s very coachable, he has incredible humility. It’s not about `How fast I can leave Arizona?’ it’s about how much better he can become. He’s seen himself grow and develop in a short period of time and as he’s grown and developed you can see his confidence building and the confidence that his teammates and coaches have in him.”
Noting Jerrett was “one of two highlights early on,” Miller also spoke at length about the other highlight -- Hill’s performance and focus.
“He’s been through so many games that’s to his advantage,” Miller said. “But it’s amazing how well he practices this year. Kyle Fogg had a similar focus a year ago where he had invested his heart and soul in a great offseason for a great final year and he was determined to be the best player that he’s been at Arizona and it really showed in his defense and his leadership -- and it translated into an all-Pac-12 performance and one of the best defensive performances as a perimeter player in all of college basketball.
“Watching Solomon now, he’s focused, he’s better, he’s ready, he’s hungry to leave a winner and words can only do so much. It’s actions that are more powerful. How Solomon has approached every drill, every day is really inspiring for our team. I’m proud of the way he’s established his attitude early on.”
So who else could start? Experience and production point to Mark Lyons and Nick Johnson as likely starters in the backcourt. Hill will be at small forward, and the only question may be whether Jerrett plays the four with Kaleb Tarczewski at the five or whether Jerrett plays the five with Brandon Ashley at the four.
Miller said all three freshmen big men have alternated in who is playing the best, with Jerrett the obvious leader at this point.
“Kaleb throughout the summer really was that” top post player, Miller said. “Then as we approached later in the summer, you could see Brandon Ashley. Grant wasn’t here early in the summer but I would say over the first month here and these two weeks of practice he’s really established himself as someone we’re going to count on.”
Miller said Jerrett has been playing both power forward and center equally in practice and his ability to do so gives the Wildcats some valuable options.
“That makes our team much deeper when he can play with, for example, Brandon, and he can play with Angelo (Chol) or Kaleb,” Miller said. “That gives us truly our deepest front line as opposed to pigeon-holing him where he can only play one of the two frontcourt places. So we started off early to get him both roles and each day he’s becoming more comfortable.”
With this group, though, Miller said the starting lineup is likely to be fluid throughout the season. That means another two, three or maybe four other players are likely to pick up starts in addition to the five that start in the Nov. 11 opener against Charleston Southern.
“I could see us going through the month of November (with one lineup) and then get into December and the dynamic changes,” Miller said. “With the team we have, I think things will evolve and change. I don’t think we will have a set five starters. We really have eight or nine players where there’s not a lot of difference between them. I think there’s a big difference between Solomon Hill and a lot of guys but in other areas depth has to be our team’s strength, that on a given night or given week our lineup can change.”