Arizona coach Sean Miller ran into one problem on the court during the Wildcats’ exhibition games in Spain earlier this month, but it was a good one to have.
He had to start figuring out who to get the ball to.
Does he go with the all-around scoring powers of Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins? The fast-rising skills of freshman guard Brandon Randolph? Pound it down low to the reliable Dusan Ristic? Have Parker Jackson-Cartwright or Dylan Smith fire up some opportunistic 3s?
Or just let DeAndre Ayton use his freakish 7-foot athleticism to spin and dunk around guys who won’t have a chance to stop him?
The answer, naturally, was a little bit of everything. Miller hopes to do the same in the upcoming season, too.
“Nobody can do it alone,” Miller said. “Especially if you’re trying to compete for the top prize, whether that top prize is when you go to the tournament in the Bahamas … (or) you go to the conference regular season championship. No one can do it alone.”
Especially because, as the Wildcats also found out in Spain, all those options are never guaranteed.
During their second game in Spain — and what turned out to be their last, since a July 17 terrorist attack in Barcelona led to canceling the finale — Alkins sat out with a strained shoulder, freshman forward Emmanuel Akot sat out the second half with a sore knee and walk-on guard Kory Jones tore his ACL on the very first possession he played.
All that served as yet another reminder of how fragile the Wildcat roster has been the previous two seasons, thanks to injuries and off-court issues. There were back-to-back preseason ACL tears to five-star forward Ray Smith in 2015 and 2016, in-season injuries to Kaleb Tarczewski (2015-16) and Jackson-Cartwright (2016-17), plus half-season suspensions of Elliott Pitts in 2015-16 and Allonzo Trier last season, among other issues.
“With injuries and foul trouble, a lot of times that player you’re thinking of isn’t even available for part of the year, or a given moment,” Miller said. “My experience is that at the Red-Blue Game, every team we’ve had appears deeper than they are. That’s a fact. Sometimes there are things that are out of our control, whether it’s because of an injury or an off-court situation takes a player away like Allonzo a year ago. But sometimes there’s good fortune, and let’s hope this year that’s not the case.”
So far, aside from their issues in Spain, the Wildcats appear to be pretty fortunate. They may have the nation’s No. 1 preseason team, loaded with a variety of skills, experience, size and athleticism.
After returning from Spain last week, Miller shared some impressions of his new weapons:
- Randolph was something of a surprise standout in Spain, averaging 15 points per game on 48-percent shooting and starting for Alkins in the second game. But Miller also said freshman Alex Barcello is a “rock solid” option in the backcourt, likely to share some backup point guard duties with Trier and Akot.
“Alex and Brandon … those guys are two of our best but they’re able to do more than we anticipated. We recruited both to be more than just shooters but clearly they have a well-roundedness earlier in their career than maybe we anticipated.
“Brandon, as he’s gotten stronger, his athleticism really stands out. He’s also a clever passer for somebody who plays off the ball. Alex has always been a great competitor, but defensively, he has a chance to be like a T.J. McConnell, where he’s a bulldog, he can guard the other team’s best perimeter player.”
- Ayton was less of a factor than expected in UA’s first game, a 69-point blowout win in Valencia, with 10 points on 4-for-9 shooting and nine rebounds. But he pulled out a variety of moves three days later against much better competition in Mataro, collecting 18 points on 9-for-12 shooting and 10 rebounds.
“Once he got through the first game, he was a lot more relaxed in the second. Like all the one-and-done guys we’ve had, you don’t just flip a switch. All these guys need a little patience. They need help to accomplish what they came here to accomplish. … (and while) Brandon Randolph looked like a senior out there he’s going to have moments in November when maybe he’s going to look like a freshman.”
- Miller said he was also encouraged by Akot, even though the versatile Canadian was hurt in the second game, and fellow freshman forward Ira Lee, who averaged six points and 4.5 rebounds off the bench.
“Ira’s a great athlete and what you see now is a glimpse of what he’s going to become. He’s going to help us on offense and defense, and he doesn’t look like a freshman physically. He’s going to be able to impact our team with his ability to do a lot of different things.
“With Emmanuel, I’d really say the same thing. With his size and his passing (he can make an impact offensively) and, like Alex, he has a chance to be an excellent defensive player. He reminds me of (Rondae) Hollis-Jefferson type of guy. He can guard a variety of players.
“Everybody’s talking about DeAndre, and rightly so, but those four other (freshman) guys are exciting. We’re excited to have them and coach them.”
- Dylan Smith, a redshirt sophomore who sat out last season after transferring from Asheville, averaged 11.0 points and hit half of his eight 3-pointers. But it’s still uncertain if Smith will be a spot reserve brought in for shooting or a regular rotation player.
“All that remains to be seen,” Miller said. “Dylan did play very well on the trip which was great to see. Some of the anxiety of not being out there for a year I’m sure he felt but he really shot the ball well and that’s something we know he can do. We’re working with him on other things and the year that he had with our program practicing every day is clearly to his advantage.”
- Arizona’s other “newcomer,” associate head coach Lorenzo Romar, used UA’s trip and its preceding 10 practices to further learn his new environment after a 15-year run as Washington’s head coach.
Romar’s Huskies have caused considerable trouble for Arizona, winning five of the first seven games against Arizona in the Miller era, and Miller said the Wildcats are likely to incorporate some of Romar’s offensive philosophies.
“With Lorenzo, for me, it’s to allow him to truly be himself and think like a head coach, and to put his stamp on our program because his career speaks for itself, his career as a player and the fact that he won a national championship as an assistant at UCLA” in 1995, Miller said. “Not to mention just who he is as a person and his way of being able to connect with so many different people — parents, young players, seniors. The last thing I would ever want him to do is tippy toe around what he should and should not do. …
“From an offensive perspective, I think there’s lot of things we loved about the way his teams played. We have to be true to ourselves because there’s a lot of things we believe in, but to add some of his thoughts and allow him to make us better, it would be foolish for me or for anybody not to allow that to happen. To have Lorenzo here is a gift and I think it’ll impact us in a significant way.”