Greg Hansen: Wildcats fans' season of expectations begins now

2010-10-13T00:00:00Z 2013-09-17T16:22:02Z Greg Hansen: Wildcats fans' season of expectations begins nowGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
October 13, 2010 12:00 am  • 

It is standing-room-only in a small conference room at McKale Center and Sean Miller is talking about Jamelle Horne's psyche and Jordin Mayes' wingspan.

There are 37 reporters, cameramen and assorted bloggers recording the coach's words and framing his owl-type eyes during a 41-minute state-of-the-Wildcats address.

"Jordin is only 6-2," the coach says, "but he has the wingspan of someone 6-9."

Everyone makes a note of it. It is Oct. 12, and this is essential news. Basketball season always arrives early in Tucson.

The Wildcats won't play their Pac-10 opener for 77 days, but few in this hoops-driven valley have the patience to wait more than seven minutes to set their expectations. Can they win 20 again? Or 25? Have they recruited well enough to overhaul Washington and win the Pac-10?

Did Derrick Williams develop a jumper? Can MoMo Jones run the show? Is Kyryl Natyazhko good enough to play 20 minutes a game?

Is it too early to think about advancing deep into the wonderful Madness?

Unlike last October, Miller does not say "this is a fresh canvas," and at no time during his 41-minute session does he use the most dreaded word in Arizona basketball: "rebuilding." It is the surest sign that the Wildcats have separated from their transition season, 16-15, one filled with theatrics and promise but one worthy of neither an NCAA nor an NIT invitation.

"A year ago I was worried about the number of games we could win," Miller says. "It very easily could've been 12-18 or 12-19, but I don't know if it could've been 21-13."

This is coaches' code. It means that 16-15 was remarkable. It also means that 16-15 is henceforth unlikely, unacceptable and unthinkable.

"We're in a much better place than we were a year ago," the coach says. "We want to be better, and we expect to be better."

No team has a surplus of good players in college basketball, not now, not ever, not even at Duke or North Carolina. But here is the tip to how much Arizona has grown: The personnel options Miller has this year are good ones.

"We have 11 or 12 players who all assume they'll play," he says with a smile. "And three of them are wrong."

A year ago, Miller combined his freshman brigade with the leftovers from the Olson/O'Neill/Pennell era and on some nights had difficulty finding three or four useful players.

Now it's more likely that he'll have to sit, or redshirt, a useful player who can't crack the rotation.

"We've moved it up a notch," said junior guard Kyle Fogg. "If you want to get on the court, you're really going to have to earn it now."

It is an October ritual in Tucson to run your finger down Arizona's basketball season and bit by bit declare the season a success-in-the-making.

The first part is easy. Win. Win. Win. Win. Win. That's a 5-0 start against Idaho State, New Mexico State, Northern Colorado, Bethune-Cookman and Santa Clara.

You skip over the Kansas game, to be played in Las Vegas, and put down three more wins, against Rice and Oklahoma, a payback game, and against Cal-Fullerton. The Dec. 11 game against BYU is the first loss. It's in Salt Lake City. The Cougars are loaded. You give one to the other side.

You put down two more wins, against Robert Morris and NAU, and put a roadie to North Carolina State into the same unknown bracket with Kansas.

At worst, that's 10-3 entering the Pac-10 season. Last year the Wildcats were 6-6 (and fortunate not to be 4-8) entering the conference grinder.

"Being better by leaps and bounds, I don't know if that's going to be the case," says Miller. "But I do know that we have the ability to be a better team, and head in the direction that we all want to eventually head."

This team will be forward-heavy. Horne, Williams, Kevin Parrom, Solomon Hill and junior college transfer Jesse Perry will vie for precious minutes.

"I came here because it's hard to get playing time," says Perry, whose reputation is as a rebounder and a tough sucker, something that Arizona has had in short supply. "I came here because Arizona is a winner. That's what appeals to me. I didn't come here to lose."

Says Williams: "The practices are going to be wild. If you don't play hard, you won't play. We've got lots of guys."

Practice starts Friday. The expectations start now.

Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or ghansen@azstarnet.com

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

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