Without reciting stats or measurements or anything else but his own eyes after a summer full of workouts, Arizona Wildcats coach Sean Miller today identified one returning player that has improved significantly over the summer.
“That shouldn’t surprise you with the experience that Nick has gotten in his freshman and sophomore years,” Miller said at his end-of-summer news conference. “I believe (that experience) has catapulted him in a position into being an all Pac-12 performer (because of) where he is defensively, where he is maturity wise, his ability to shoot and ability to play with confidence and do so many things for our team.
“Just watching him it’s great to see him. He reminds me a lot of Solomon (Hill), as you see someone leave a year of experience and start to move toward the next year.”
Johnson did not receive first- second, or honorable mention all-Pac-12 honors last season but is the Wildcats' top returning scorer this season. He averaged 11.5 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists last season while often defending the best perimeter player on the opposing team.
Miller said the Wildcats, who will wrap up their limited summertime workouts this week and break until school starts on Aug. 26, have focused on perimeter shooting more than any other team in the country this summer.
“We have put more eggs in that basket to get game shots, game reps, to develop and teach,” Miller said, “and I believe we’ve improved as much as you can over a summer but we also have guys that can shoot.”
Miller said he didn’t have stats to cite but that Johnson, T.J. McConnell, Jordin Mayes, Gabe York, Elliott Pitts have shot well while Brandon Ashley has also “done a ton of work on his range” as well.
“I believe that’s something we’ve improved silently, and thankfully we’ve had the ability to work in that area,” Miller said. “If we wouldn’t have that’s something I think we wouldn’t be able to address.”
Miller said Kansas transfer Zach Peters is also a promising shooter with size, as Grant Jerrett was last season, but that he wasn’t sure about Peters’ status. Peters, who suffered multiple concussions last season at Kansas, has not been cleared for full contact and has not received word whether his appeal to play immediately will be granted by the NCAA.
With incoming freshmen Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson bringing the potential for immediate defensive help, along with defenders such as Mayes, Johnson and even center Kaleb Tarczewski, Miller said this seasons Wildcats could be his best defensive team yet at Arizona.
He’s also thinking of tweaking his defense to take advantage of what he has, possibly with more full-court pressure and trapping.
“I believe in man-to-man, and that will always be our primary defense,” Miller said. “But there are a lo of different things you can do within man-to-man. … Using our athleticism is something I would be foolish not to take advantage of and I think our team has a lot of ability on defense.
“With the length and athleticism of really a lot of other players I would hope we could all point to this as the best defensive team I’ve had in my time here. Trapping and pressuring the ball, maybe even changing defense some is something we’ve looked at all summer and again it’s always about putting your talent in the best position to be successful.”
Miller also discussed the hiring of former UA center Joseph Blair as an undergraduate assistant coach, as noted on the previous blog thread.
Not surprisingly, Jahii Carson is tweeting about his "last go-round" at ASU.
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San Diego 2014 guard Trey Kell, who received a late scholarship offer from Arizona last month in Las Vegas, now lists UA as one of eight finalists.