Editor’s note: The Star’s Zack Rosenblatt is counting down the 50 best athletes on the UA campus right now, with help from athletes, coaches and those close to the program.
No. 49: Dusan Ristic
Sport: Men’s basketball
The details: Ristic is a 7-foot senior center from Serbia who came to the Wildcats as part of a highly-touted 2014 recruiting class. He spent two seasons as a reserve behind Kaleb Tarczewski before taking on a full-time starting role as a junior this past season. Before Ristic committed to the Wildcats in 2014, DraftExpress had projected him as a first-round pick in the 2015 draft. He’s not currently projected as a 2018 pick, thoughDraft Express did rank him the 28th-best junior in the nation after last season.
The numbers: Ristic has gradually improved his production each season as his playing time has increased. In scoring, his average has gone from 3.4 points per game as a freshman to 7.1 as a sophomore to 10.9 as a junior. The same goes for his rebounding numbers, which have risen from 2.1 to 3.8 to 5.5 boards. He’s never shot worse than 55 percent from the field and converted 76.5 percent of his free throw attempts last season, a solid conversion rate for a 7-footer.
The value: If nothing else, Ristic is a supremely skilled offensive big man, with advanced low-post moves that have improved with experience. Ristic struggles a bit with defense and rebounding for a player his size, but has slowly improved in those areas. Next to 7-foot freshman phenom DeAndre Ayton, the Wildcats will be difficult to defend in the low post this year.
Why Ristic? UA coach Sean Miller has called Ristic “as good of a scorer in the low post as a senior center as maybe I’ve seen.” Even with the defensive struggles, Ristic’s offensive skillset has already proven invaluable, and more improvement is expected for his senior season.
Proof he’s good: Beyond the year-by-year improvement, Ristic has proven in stretches that he can be virtually unstoppable in the low post. He only played 22.8 minutes per game last season but still managed to score in double figures 25 times, and he did with it efficiency too — attempting more than 10 shots on only five occasions. In three NCAA Tournament games last season, he shot at a 62-percent clip, and nobody on Arizona’s roster is more efficient close to the basket, as Ristic shot 77.1 percent at the rim.
What Ristic can accomplish: Ristic has All-Conference potential if he can increase his scoring average closer to the 14-16 points per game range — which might be difficult with Arizona’s bevy of offensive options — and also increase his rebounding rate. Beyond that, Ristic already had lucrative offers to play overseas back home in Serbia but chose instead to return to Tucson for his senior season. For a shot at the NBA, Ristic would have to improve drastically on the de fensive end and add a mid-range shooting game to his repertoire.
They said it: “Bill Walton always says to me, and it’s a great point he makes: If he were 6 feet, would he play basketball? And if he were 6 feet, do you think he would be a good player?” Miller said of the Pac-12 analyst and UCLA legend. “Dusan’s answer to that is yes. He has a desire and a hunger that I haven’t seen of a player with his size.”
He said it: “It is important to me to return to finish my education and complete my goals as a player. The support of my coaches, teammates, and the Arizona fans has been amazing throughout my three years in Tucson. I look forward to competing for championships during my final season in McKale Center.” — Ristic when he announced his return to Arizona for his final season.