When Arizona Wildcats coach Sean Miller signed Alex Barcello in November 2016, he raved about the motor of his incoming Phoenix-area guard.
“I think that he has a fire inside of him, a toughness, and a love of the game that at that position you love to have,” Miller said then.
But during Barcello’s freshman year last season, he played in only 21 of 35 games, partly because of a December ankle injury. In the games he did play, Barcello averaged 9.6 minutes.
This season, despite playing on a team that lost five starters, Barcello averaged just 8.7 minutes through UA’s first six games.
After all that bench time, could his fire still possibly be there two years later? Did he get discouraged after playing just 12 total minutes over three games in the Maui Invitational last week?
“No sir,” Barcello said Thursday, after scoring a career-high 16 points at McKale Center against Georgia Southern. “I’m just trusting the process. I’m trying to get better every day. My teammates also help me with that, building my confidence, getting me open shots and picking me up if I make a mistake.”
Because the “process” talk has long been something of a mantra — or even a cliché — around Arizona’s program, those sort of words can sound rehearsed and automated. But in UA’s 100-70 win over Georgia Southern, Barcello displayed the sort of body language that probably said much more than any words could have.
Barcello was aggressive and confident, playing like the hungry four-star prospect who won two state titles with Tempe Corona del Sol and joined the Oakland Soldiers in the summer of 2016 in an attempt to gain exposure and experience at travel-ball’s highest level.
Barcello was 6 of 10 from the field against the Eagles and hit 2 of 3 3-pointers after making just one of his first seven from long range this season. His 16 points came with one assist, one rebound and one steal.
“It was great to see him make shots in the game,” Miller said. “We’ve really stayed with him, and Alex is one of our hardest workers. We watch him every day in practice … and it’s just a matter of him playing with confidence, knowing that we want him to shoot the ball.”
After a game in which UA had 22 assists to just six turnovers, Barcello repeatedly said teamwork helped. The Wildcats spread the ball around so much in Thursday’s fast-paced game that seven players scored eight points or more.
“We’re playing really well together right now and finding the open man,” Barcello said. “That helps me build my confidence as I come in the game. It helps my teammates’ confidence as well.”
With Barcello’s 18 points, and another eight from the lightly-used Devonaire Doutrive, the UA bench collectively scored a season-high 47 points.
More so than Barcello, Doutrive has also been hard-pressed to get on the floor. He played only a minute in Maui, and just 22 over UA’s first six games, but played well during 11 minutes Thursday.
“He’s a young player who just keeps coming on,” Miller said of Doutrive. “You watch him every day in practice and he’s working extremely hard. We’ve talked to him about just staying with it and he has.
“He plays with confidence. It’s kind of fun to see a young guy like him develop and I think he’ll be a part of what we do here moving forward.”
Miller inserted Doutrive after eight minutes and said he purposely tried to insert Barcello earlier Thursday in an effort to help his rhythm. Barcello entered the game after six minutes and sank a midrange jumper less than a minute later.
“Sometimes if you sit there for eight minutes of game time, it’s not easy to just kind of come in and make the first shot,” Miller said. “But the fact that (Barcello) made six of them is a great sign and we’ve started to see it a little bit with him playing with more fire and confidence in practice.”
Sort of like the guy he recruited.
- Miller said forward Ryan Luther is getting closer “toward 100 percent” with what appears to be a sprained finger (UA doesn’t detail injuries any more). Luther played with his left middle and ring fingers taped together on Thursday, and Miller said he’s also lacking confidence. “I think every couple of days it moves forward and he’ll play with more confidence and not worry about it as much,” Miller said. Luther had eight points on 3-for-5 shooting over 15 minutes Thursday.
- The Wildcats will board their charter flight Saturday to face UConn on Sunday at the XL Center in Hartford. UA is 1-5 against UConn — which is 6-1 this year under new coach Dan Hurley — having beaten the Huskies for the first time last season at McKale Center.