If Friday’s Red-Blue Game was any indication, Devonaire Doutrive isn’t going to have an issue finding playing time this season.
Playing a limited role off the bench for only 26 of the Wildcats’ 32 games last season — and then leaving the team to transfer in May before he decided to return a month later — Doutrive on Friday showed up as a savvy, versatile sophomore who led the Blue team to a 46-32 win before about 13,000 fans at McKale Center.
Doutrive had 14 points and six rebounds, scoring not only via his customary rebound putbacks but also hitting a 3-pointer and a floater, among other shots. He also shared ballhandling duties on the Blue team with sophomore Jemarl Baker, who is scheduled to redshirt unless he wins a pending appeal to play right away.
Then, after the game, Doutrive was low-key in a veteran sort of way.
“I was just going out there and doing what I have to do,” Doutrive said. “I came out more comfortable playing the offense, more so than last year.”
While Doutrive’s improvement could help him earn more time on the wing, he might also pick up a lot of minutes at point guard behind freshman Nico Mannion. As of now, UA coach Sean Miller said Doutrive is right there with Max Hazzard as a potential backup point guard — especially since the Wildcats may need Hazzard to stay off the ball as much as possible because of his 3-point shooting ability.
Hazzard, who led UC Irvine to its first NCAA Tournament win last season, had 11 points with 3 of 6 3-point shooting to lead the Red team.
“Max is a sniper, a great shooter,” Miller said. “It really comes down to who can take care of the ball. I do think it’s nice to have Devonaire in that role.
“A lot of times it makes you a better player.”
Already, Doutrive’s game has improved not just with experience but also simple maturity, looking like a much different player than he was a year ago as an unheralded freshman who had been the a much-needed commit in April 2018, which UA entered with just six players.
Sean Miller on rising sophomore Devonaire Doutrive who led the team with 15 points and 7 rebounds: “He’s grown up a lot. ... He can contribute in a lot of different ways to our team.” pic.twitter.com/0d8859HKFN— The Wildcaster (@TheWildcaster) September 28, 2019
“He was just almost like a young boy finding his way from high school to college and figuring it out,” Miller said. “He’s grown up a lot. He’s bigger, stronger. What I like about him is he can help us in a lot of ways.”
In a way, though, Doutrive’s effort was typical of what often happens in the Red-Blue Game: Veterans can take over despite whatever talented freshmen were on hand. UA coach Sean Miller said there’s a lot of nerves involved for younger players who envisioned playing in the Red-Blue Game for years and then finally do it.
“You have to get the jitters out,” Miller said.
While highly regarded freshman guards Mannion and Josh Green had their moments for the Red team, Mannion shot 2 of 7 with four turnovers to his three assists while Green was 3 of 8.
Sean Miller on freshman PG Nico Mannion: “He’s a shotmaker. Usually you don’t say that about a point guard.” pic.twitter.com/mnHXwn1TDa— The Wildcaster (@TheWildcaster) September 28, 2019
“Nico did fine,” Miller said. “It’s almost unfair the high expectations that are placed on him. Tonight was his first ever moment in McKale.”
Instead, it was a grad transfer in Hazzard who led the Red team with 11 points, while the Wildcats’ other grad transfer, forward Stone Gettings, had 10 points and four rebounds for the Blue.
Another veteran, guard Dylan Smith, added seven points and four rebounds for the Blue team, although he was 2 of 8 from the field.
A late entrant in the Red-Blue pre-game dunk contest, Doutrive edged Ira Lee for the title of the two-round event.
Lee had the contest’s best single dunk, going emphatically over three teammates — Zeke Nnaji, Gettings and Jemarl Baker — but Doutrive gained near-perfect scores on his two dunks from a panel of judges that included UA president Robert Robbins and UA women’s basketball standout Aari McDonald.
First, Doutrive comfortably cleared freshman 7-footer Christian Koloko and on his second dunk took a pass from Nico Mannion that bounced off the side of the backboard and stuffed it in. He did not miss.
A late substitute for Manning in the dunk contest, Doutrive didn’t have much time to plan his dunks though he had asked Koloko about being a prop.
That initially didn’t go over so well.
“At first he was kind of shaky because he didn’t know I could jump over him,” Doutrive said. “Then I did it one time in practice and he felt comfortable.”
In the game, Doutrive was just as impressive. Doutrive opened the scoring in fitting fashion — putting in an offensive rebound, just as he did to win UA’s last game last season at Oregon State.
He would have finished the half with a well-executed alley oop dunk off a pass from Baker but the play was waved off because Doutrive didn’t get it in until just after the buzzer sounded.
Doutrive scored nine points on 4-for-5 shooting in the first half while also leading both sides in rebounding with four before halftime while leading the Blue to a 24-15 halftime lead.
Dylan Smith added seven points for the Blue team in the first half, hitting a 25-footer that gave the Blue team a 10-0 lead with 8:36 left in the 12-minute first half.
Despite the Red team’s struggles, Hazzard finally scored four minutes into the scrimmage when Mannion hit a pair of free throws.
Mannion later hit a 3-pointer and had seven points in the first half to lead the Red in halftime scoring.
Before the game, Miller thanked fans in typical fashion — “I feel like I’m always thanking you because that’s really what you deserve,” he said — while also paying tribute to UA superfan and Tucson businessman George Kalil, who died in July after spending more than four decades of regularly sitting behind the Wildcats’ bench on home and road games.
Sean Miller on honoring the late George Kalil, a UA hoops super fan who passed away earlier this year: “George has a special place in our hearts. ... He’s been a fixture for decades.” pic.twitter.com/RFtpYMXZbF— The Wildcaster (@TheWildcaster) September 28, 2019
“I will never forget 11 years ago, when we had our first Red-Blue game, I looked over my left shoulder in as I’ve done and as coach (Lute) Olson did,” Miller said, “and have so many people here that have come to McKale over the last couple of decades — and you always saw the friendliest face you could ever see in the basketball game.”
A drum that Kalil used to bang at UA games — until the Western Athletic Conference outlawed him from doing so — was placed in his seat along with a sign honoring his life and work as the president of Kalil Bottling Company.
“He will always be in our hearts and remembered for his caring for all his employees. Rest in peace,” the sign said.
Player introductions preceded Miller’s address and freshman forward Zeke Nnaji, also an accomplished pianist, played a keyboard version of the national anthem before collecting six rebounds but going scoreless on 0-for-3 shooting in the game.
“He’s immensely talented,” Miller said. “He didn’t play as well in the Red-Blue Game and I told him him after join the club (of others who struggled in the scrimmage through the years). There’s a ton of players. Zeke could be our leading scorer and rebounder (in the first game of the season).”