T.J. McConnell defended a lot of talented perimeter players in practice while redshirting last season and one thing about Gabe York stood out.

“I couldn’t give him any room,” McConnell said, “because if he got open for a shot it’s going in.”

Still, York played in only 15 of 35 games because, he said, something else was lacking.

“I didn’t play defense in high school,” York said today, when he and McConnell were made available to media at McKale Center. “It was hard to translate from going from a high school where I had to score the ball, and I had to stay on the court mainly for offense, to come in here were people were just as good as I was and having to play defense.

“So I think definitely this year it clicked in my mind that offense is always going to be there. I’ve got play defense to get on the court.”

So far, York is optimistic about his ability to do so.

“As a scorer-shooter you have to be able to hit shots and that’s what I was recruited here for was to take be a scorer and make shots,” York said. “Last year was sort of a confidence thing, not playing a lot and thinking I was going to get more playing time than I did, that’s all it really was.”

“This year with some of the guards leaving, I have a bigger role on this team, my confidence came back and I’ve been shooting the ball really well.”

York and McConnell said the Wildcats have emphasized playing defense with concern for the expected stiffer calls against handchecks and block/charge situations.

“You can’t put one hand (on a dribbler) any more defensively, so we have to get better at moving our feet, finding ways to get over screens and not getting hit on the screen without using our hands,” York said. “It’s definitely going to be a challenge for us.

“I think it helps the offensive player a lot more. Not being able to handcheck, not putting one hand on an offensive player, I think scores are going to go up and more fouls are going to be called.”

York said he didn’t agree with the changes, noting it will result in more blocks against defenders and demand better communication among defenders.

“When you come off a screen you can’t use your hands,” York said. “You’ve gotta trust (a teammate) that he’s going to stay until you can get back.”

The players said the return of assistant coach Book Richardson on Thursday was a boost for the team. Richardson’s return was announced this morning.

“Coach Book is one of those guys who brings energy every day and without him the gym’s a little more quiet,” McConnell said. “We obviously missed him. We’re really happy to have him back.”