Greg Hansen: Versatile Mayes makes Cats better

2011-11-10T00:00:00Z 2011-11-10T06:39:45Z Greg Hansen: Versatile Mayes makes Cats betterGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
November 10, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Josiah Turner was late for practice Wednesday. On the list of lines that cannot be crossed in college basketball, being late for practice carries with it the ultimate penalty: you sit on the bench.

I don't know when Josiah Turner last sat on the bench for 23 minutes in a basketball game, or when he did not start a basketball game - never, maybe? - but during his pine time Wednesday night he watched his replacement, Jordin Mayes, score 19 points.

Mayes did his best impression of an alarm clock in Arizona's 67-59 victory over Duquesne on Wednesday night. Given the immediate consequences, it would be a shock if young Josiah Turner is ever late to a Sean Miller workout again.

Time after time after time Wednesday, Mayes would drain a three-pointer, turn around and run ever so purposely downcourt to play defense.

Did I say smooth? Yes. That's the word for Jordin Mayes. Mr. Smooth.

He is a throwback, a player with mannerisms from a previous generation. He does not posture. After each of his four three-pointers, Mayes declined to strut, flex, raise an index finger to the heavens or beat on his chest as if he had just been selected homecoming king.

Arizona couldn't have beaten the Dukes without Mayes the same way it couldn't have beaten Texas in last year's NCAA tournament when Mayes, a revelation of composure, helped to chop up the Longhorns by scoring 16 points.

This is the next step in the progression of Mayes' arrival as a basketball player; he has a chance to help Arizona win dozens of basketball games through 2014.

Isn't that enough? He isn't likely to be thrown into the Point Guard U lineage because he's more of a combo guard, part Matt Othick, part Matt Muehlebach, and because, as Miller said late Wednesday "he gets no sugar."

Mr. Smooth is not yet Mr. Sweet.

"No one asks me about him," said Miller. "As Year 1 became Year 2 for him, there's still no sugar. But I'm glad we have him on our team. He's a great kid."

Typically modest, Mayes deferred credit. "I need to thank my teammates," he said. "They found me, and I just hit big shots."

During Miller's exploratory process, a period of discovery that will continue Sunday against Ball State and twice next week in New York City, it's likely he will find that he can package Mayes with just about anybody.

It might be Mayes and Turner in the backcourt at times. Or it might be Mayes and Kyle Fogg. Or maybe Mayes and Nick Johnson. Or it might be a combination of three. Mayes' versatility makes this a better team.

Small ball might not work against UCLA or Washington, but it worked against Duquesne, and it could be that the resourcefulness of this club, and of its coach, will be its hallmark.

It is far too early to give in to the temptation that Turner is on a trail to being a b-u-s-t. He did not score Wednesday, and he has looked unsettled in the UA's two games, but remember this: Jason Terry scored one point, total, in his first two Arizona games in 1995-96 and averaged just 3.1 points that season.

Terry struggled so mightily to break into Lute Olson's rotation that he thought about transferring at midseason. He didn't score in double figures until Feb. 7 of his freshman season and was used for only three minutes in an NCAA tournament game against Iowa that year.

So Turner's slow break from the gate is almost meaningless.

"I'm not going to criticize any of our freshmen," said Miller. "All freshmen have different lines of improvement. Josiah right now is learning what the college game is all about, learning how to work hard every day, and to translate his talent to our team as we move forward."

Or, as Mayes said, "it starts in practice; me and Josiah are going to compete regardless of who's starting. He came in with a big name, but there are a lot of great players in college basketball. He's going to get better, and I'm just trying to help him the best way I can."

As Turner develops, Mayes is just finding his rhythm. He missed 12 weeks over the summer, rehabbing from a broken foot. If he's somewhat gassed, it's difficult to tell. His body language rarely betrays his emotions.

"Jordin is a winner," Miller said. "He reminds me of a lot of the kids I recruited and we coached at Xavier: somewhat underappreciated. But he'll continue to develop and have a lot of characteristics of a winner, with intangibles.

"Once you come to college, it's not where you were as a high school player. There's a new beginning."

And so far, Jordin Mayes is making the best of it.

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