Already having installed season captains for the first time in his 10 seasons at Arizona, coach Sean Miller says his staff is also giving out six new game awards.
They’re so new, in fact, that at least one of the winners doesn’t even know about them.
Miller said junior guard Dylan Smith earned the defender and hustler of the game awards in Arizona’s 90-60 win over Houston Baptist on Wednesday, having collected nine rebounds, two blocks and a steal plus other accomplishments that didn’t go in the box score.
“I’m just doing what coach asked me to do,” said Smith, when asked about winning the defender award. “I didn’t even know that was an award. It’s good to win it, I guess. We won the game but we still have areas to improve on.”
While the awards may be new, the feedback behind them is not. Miller said his staff and players always review, praise and critique individual performances. The awards are just a way to add recognition that might be shared publicly if the staff desires, and Miller said he would have UA start posting them “as we move on to the next game.”
The other game awards also include the top overall player, sixth man, playmaker and screener.
“We call it feedback, what we did well, what we didn’t do well and which players did this exceptionally well and in some cases what they didn’t do well as an individual,” Miller said.
“But now we are categorizing for them so they have the player of the game, the guy who statistically did the best job. The hustler of the game, somebody who makes hard plays to the ball, draws charges …”
The sixth man of the game honor, for the non-starter who helped the most, Miller said “is a big, big award. You want depth and different people to contribute in different ways.”
It was pretty clear that sophomore wing Brandon Randolph was the Wildcats’ top player on Wednesday, with 25 points on 8-for-12 shooting, while Miller indicated point guard Justin Coleman received extra credit toward the playmaker award for a game in which he was officially credited for two assists and four turnovers.
“In Justin’s case, three or four passes could have been an assist,” Miller said. “A guy just missed a wide-open shot. So we take that into account.”
Miller said the defender of the game is not only the player who collects steals and blocks but also “just really embodies the qualities we want to see,” while adding that the screener of the game “sometimes (is a player who) is unselfish and overlooked.”
Smith’s two awards came despite a 1-for-5 shooting effort.
“That says a lot about him,” Miller said. “He’s a better shooter than he’s shown and he’s doing those other things. I think his teammates really respect that. I know I respect that, and we’re looking forward to him settling in, taking good shots, and making some of those as well.”
That’s been the only problem with Smith lately. Counting his 1-for-8 shooting in the Red-Blue game, Smith is shooting a combined 20 percent from the field in four appearances, including his 1-5 effort on Wednesday against Houston Baptist.
A 34.1 percent 3-point shooter in 2015-16 as a UNC Asheville freshman before transferring to Arizona, Smith said the slump dates back to the Pac-12 Tournament last season in Las Vegas. Over three games there, Smith was 1 for 11 and missed all 10 3-point shots he tried.
“I’ve never had a slump like this,” Smith said. “This has been going ever since Vegas but I’ll be fine. Shots are gonna fall. I’ve just got to regain my confidence back on the floor and I’ve been shooting it well in practice.”
Smith said he knows he can also help with defense and rebounding, of course, which a big reason Miller does not appear overly worried.
“They just haven’t fallen and sometimes when you’ve worked as hard as our guys have this offseason, you want to get off to a good start,” Miller said. “When it doesn’t happen right away you can put more pressure on yourself. I don’t look at Dylan at all as playing scared. Playing scared means you’re not doing anything out there.
“He’s doing every single thing we’re asking him to do and I think it’s really a matter of him settling in, just trying to take a quality shot and not worry about the consequence of a miss or make and moving on. … There’s a lot of other aspects of the game that he can help us with and he’s really done that.”
- The Pac-12 Networks added former UA standout Richard Jefferson to provide analysis both at games and in-studio this season, a dual role that former Wildcat guard Matt Muehlebach has also been holding. The No. 13 pick in the 2001 NBA Draft after a three-year career with Arizona, Jefferson announced his retirement last month after 17 seasons in the NBA.
- Miller did not say anything when asked about a Yahoo report that said the NCAA has been given the go-ahead to start taking information from the federal investigation and begin investigations. Some schools named in the federal probe and trial last month could receive quicker resolutions as a result, though any inquiry into Arizona may still wait until after the scheduled April trial involving former UA assistant coach Book Richardson.