Sean Miller called a news conference and held a practice on New Year’s Day, which was pretty much par for the course.
Holidays tend to mean little when you’re the Arizona basketball coach.
“In the college basketball season, it’s all-encompassing,” Miller said. “I think it covers every holiday imaginable. (With the) Fourth of July, you’d think it’s not part of the college basketball season but it’s the peak of recruiting. … It always seems like you’re busy at this time of the year.”
Still, Miller did manage to catch the holiday spirit in a basketball sense, at least.
First, he opened a Christmas present: Cornell grad transfer forward Stone Gettings was cleared to begin practices for the Wildcats on Tuesday, giving the Wildcats some much-needed skills and size behind the scenes even though he will not play this season.
Then, on Tuesday, Miller effectively declared a couple of New Year’s resolutions for his guys: Rebounding and taking care of the ball better. The UA’s razor-thin rebounding margin of just plus-0.7 is on pace to be the UA’s worst since Miller’s first team in 2009-10.
Miller said rebounding was “at the top of the list” but said cutting down on turnovers can make up for it.
The UA is averaging 11.7 turnovers a game, and the 46th best turnover percentage in Division I, with Miller saying the Wildcats had some “great moments” with the ball on the road and even against defensive pressure over the first two months of the season.
“We had several games with we had single-digit turnovers, which is a good sign,” Miller said. “The more games we can get play with 10 or fewer, I think that’s a really big number for us.”
Gettings won’t be able to help with either of those items during games this season, since Miller says there’s no chance he’ll play this season even though he’s eligible immediately as a grad transfer.
But the second-team all-Ivy pick should help sharpen his new teammates in practice with a combination of skills, size and experience. Gettings averaged 16.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists for the Big Red.
“We’re excited about being able to add him to what we do,” Miller said. “He’s a very skilled player. He can shoot the ball. Initially here, I think he’ll establish right away that he doesn’t take a back seat to really anybody on our team when it comes to shooting.
“He also loves the game. It’s fun to coach guys who love the game because they’re always working and they’re always trying to get better, and I think Stone is that type of kid.”
Because Gettings is technically eligible to play right away as a grad transfer, he is also eligible to travel with the Wildcats. That gives Arizona the chance to keep a full set of players on hand for road practices, which is especially helpful on longer trips such as the Wildcats’ upcoming Bay Area road swing, when the UA will play Stanford on Jan. 9 but not until Jan. 12 at Cal.
“I think it’s a big shot in the arm to add a quality player, especially a front-line player, who can help us every day,” Miller said. That “not only helps Stone for the future, but also helps this year’s team.”
A 6-foot-9 forward from Malibu, Calif., Gettings played for the same West Coast Elite travel ball program that featured UA signees Nico Mannion and Josh Green in recent summers.
Gettings played three seasons for Cornell, stayed in Ithaca, N.Y., during the fall to work toward his early graduation and then moved to Arizona.
By sitting out this season, Gettings will have an entire year of eligibility remaining for 2019-20, when the Wildcats will need him up front.
The UA will lose Ryan Luther from the frontcourt, though Chase Jeter, Ira Lee and Emmanuel Akot will still have eligibility remaining.
Arizona didn’t make Gettings or any other players available for comment Tuesday, but Gettings told the Cornell Sun last May that he decided to graduate early “to save myself a ton of money and have another year to play somewhere else.” Ivy League players can only receive need-based aid, not athletic scholarships.
Gettings chose Arizona in July, then joined the Wildcats over the holiday break and watched several practices first.
Miller said Gettings had to go through several medical tests before he was cleared to practice starting Tuesday.
Miller said Gettings will be limited initially while he learns the Wildcats’ system but will be able to help immediately on the scout team this weekend, mimicking Colorado and Utah frontcourt players.
• Even though Miller and Steve Alford were rivals on the court and in recruiting, with the two exchanging what appeared to be meaningless tit-for-tat timeouts in the 2016-17 season, Miller expressed sympathy after UCLA fired Alford on Monday.
“It’s unfortunate,” Miller said. “Steve Alford has been great to me, especially over the last year, when he didn’t have to. And I respect him a ton. He’s a man of great faith who cares a lot about his family. and I’m sure the next chapter of his life will be a great chapter. … I wish him nothing but the best and I’m sure that in his own ways he’s excited about a new chapter and a new start.”
• Miller said both Luther (injured finger) and guard Brandon Williams (bruised knee) are fully healthy after the long break.