UA coach Sean Miller confirmed Tuesday that Jemarl Baker and his family are trying to see if the sophomore guard can gain immediate eligibility this season, a move that could conceivably help the Wildcats' offset the loss of injured guard Brandon Williams.
Miller declined to get into specifics but Baker is likely pursuing an NCAA waiver to play immediately after transferring from Kentucky, based potentially by documenting how injuries fragmented his career at UK.
“Jamal and his family are working towards the possibility of (playing immediately), and that's really all I can comment on regarding that,” Miller said. “But if you'd say is there a possibility that he might be able to play, I would say yes. And I think I'll stop there.”
Miller was speaking at McKale Center as part of UA’s annual preseason media day. UA players are scheduled to be available for comment later Tuesday afternoon.
At the beginning of his address, Miller said he would “work as hard as I can to promote and reinforce a culture of compliance, just like I have done for the last 10-plus years.”
Those are the kinds of words Miller may need to defend himself against the NCAA’s head coach responsibility rules, which state that a head coach is responsible for the actions of direct and indirect reports unless they can rebut the presumption of responsibility.
Even if Miller is found without direct wrongdoing in the NCAA investigation, it is possible the NCAA could try to hold him accountable for the actions of imprisoned former assistant coach Book Richardson under the head coach responsibility rule.
Miller also opened his 50-minute address by thanking administrators and fans around him. These were his entire introductory words:
“Good afternoon. Before I answer questions and talk about our upcoming basketball season, I want to first express my gratitude to Dr. Robbins for his incredible support over the past two years. I can't imagine a better relationship a college coach of any kind can have with the university president.
“I also want to thank Dave Heeke and our athletic administration for their efforts and support.
"Most of all, I want to thank our fans for their heartfelt love of our basketball program. Many college basketball programs have a strong fan base. However, I can't imagine one more passionate and loyal than ours.
“As we now begin a new basketball season and any investigation into our program proceeds, I will continue to work as hard as I can to promote and reinforce a culture of compliance as a part of our basketball program. Just like I have done for the last 10 plus years. And I'll do this with the support of a very strong team, alongside of me every step of the way.
“Moving forward, I'm also going to continue to follow our University of Arizona policy of not commenting on any part of any investigation that involves our university.
“I look forward today and moving forward to answering any and really all of your questions about our basketball team. and most importantly this upcoming season.
Later in his news conference, after he was asked about whether he felt pressure to reach the Final Four because of UA’s history of success, Miller said he felt pressure every day, and again transitioned into thankfulness.
“I felt pressure the day I came here and it’s never really left,” he said. “The pressure that I feel the most is to get both feet back on the ground and to make everybody proud of our basketball program.
“And that's our fans, that's Dr Robbins, that's Dave Heeke in our administration and some incredible donors that that have supported my family and our program and staff, and at a level that I don't know is ever been seen before. So I think the challenge is every day and, and we're up to that challenge. I think we're all really excited and looking forward to it.”
Miller was then asked if it felt like it has been 10 years since he arrived at UA (he was hired in April 2009).
"It feels like 100 years," he said. "It really, really does. You know, 10 years in college basketball all that you have to do is, I think I've counted maybe 35 changes in the Pac-12 on the football side. I could be wrong, in and around there and maybe a few less but not not a ton less.
"On the basketball side, it's not easy to be at one place for 10 years and my family and I are grateful every day that we're here and and looking forward especially to the challenges of the next seven months. We're going to have plenty, and hopefully we can bring this team together and have a great season."
While Miller’s address was more descriptive of his players and the season ahead, he did mention that freshman wing Josh Green was set back by two shoulder surgeries, including one last spring that kept him from full contact until a month ago. Green also had shoulder surgery that kept him off the July 2018 recruiting circuit.
“Josh has missed in essence nine months in the last year and a half, of not shooting, not playing basketball so I don't want to say he's rusty but I think the best is yet to come for him,” Miller said. “We're obviously incredibly excited to have him and a lot like Nico (Mannion)-- I'll answer his question the same way -- that he's a part of a puzzle. He's sometimes gonna be called on to be a big part. But we're going to win and lose as a team and these guys are going to develop and they're going to have their bumps in the road in a row for sure.”
Miller noted that Ira Lee and former UA forward Ryan Anderson have had similar shoulder injuries but gone on to play without issue.
Not surprisingly, Miller was asked about the high expectations facing Mannion this season. Here’s how he answered:
“We talk a lot to Nico and his family, when we were recruiting him, that there's a lot of high expectations for him,” Miller said. “I have no doubt he'll meet those high expectations, but he's still 18 years old and he's a small part of a big picture. He’s a really integral part of our team this year, but he's going to need a lot of help; he's not going to be able to do it alone.
“He's learning. I believe this about Nico, if you would have judged him on where he was comfort wise a month ago, he's much further up the ladder today than he was a month ago, and I believe this he'll continue to grow and develop.
“I think the striking part of his game as a point guard is that he's an excellent shooter. He can score. He's not just a distributor or a quarterback. He's a quarterback who can make his teammates better, but he also will have several big nights scoring.”