CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Kaleb Tarczewski was the first to sit down and relax after his East team practiced for the Jordan Brand Classic on Thursday, but he wasn't alone for long.
Of the 22 high school stars on hand for the prestigious high school all-star game, two guys with whom the incoming Arizona Wildcats center has spent all of two days flanked him on both sides.
Of course, their names were Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett.
The fellow UA signees from the West team and Tarczewski said they consider themselves close already, ever since they met during a two-day recruiting visit to Arizona together over the Red-Blue Game weekend last October.
"That was pretty much the first time we met, but we bonded immediately," Ashley said. "We're definitely good friends."
For Tarczewski, the initial bonding was more than about having a good time. It was essential to his decision-making.
While Ashley, Jerrett and guard Gabe York had already committed to the Wildcats, Tarczewski entered the visit to Arizona not sure if he would pick the Wildcats or Kansas. He knew York well from playing in the Adidas Nation showcase together, but not the other players.
After the weekend, his mind was made up.
"We all had a really good time," Tarczewski said. "Definitely, the reason I chose Arizona was I felt really close to all the guys there and the coaching staff. It's almost like a family away from my family, and when you're going so far away from home, that was really important to me."
Indeed, while York, Jerrett and Ashley are all Californians, it is Tarczewski who faced the biggest potential culture shock in Tucson.
He grew up in Claremont, N.H., a town of about 13,000 people near the Vermont border, and spent four of his five high school years at St. Mark's School in Southborough, Mass.
But, thanks to stopping in places like Phoenix and Las Vegas for basketball events, Tarczewski was exposed to the desert. And he can't wait to live in the part of it surrounding McKale Center.
"When I went to Tucson, I was kind of blown away," Tarczewski said. "It's a really great town. I really like it down there. It's going to be nice to be in a different environment because I've always been in the Northeast where it's snowing all the time. And it's nice to go out to a place I've never been and experience that."
Although it may not have snowed any less in Massachusetts than New Hampshire, Tarczewski already experienced major transition at St. Mark's. There, as a sophomore transfer, he was exposed to both a higher level of competition on the court and a higher expectation in the classroom.
After one year, he considered returning home.
"My first year was pretty tough," Tarczewski said. "School was hard. It was pretty rigorous and being away from my family was kind of tough. It was a tough year, but I thought about it and said, 'I gotta go back and do this myself.' It's kind of worked out."
His next transition will be challenging, and busy.
Tarczewski said he plans to arrive in Tucson just a week after his high school graduation, enrolling in both summer sessions at UA. He'll then join the Wildcats for an August exhibition swing to the Bahamas and roll into preseason practices as an expected contributor for a team without a contributing true big man last season.
Tarczewski, Jerrett and Ashley will all be expected to help inside on a Wildcats team that relied on 6-7 Jesse Perry to carry the bulk of the center duties last season. Arizona will also get practice help from Cochise forward Matt Korcheck, who is expected to redshirt next season for the Wildcats.
"This year they really didn't have much inside," Tarczewski said. "But all three of us are going to go in there, and we'll be a good team."
Former Olson Staffer hired as coach at NAU
NAU hired a basketball coach with strong Arizona Wildcats ties Thursday.
Jack Murphy, who served in several roles on Lute Olson's Arizona staffs and graduated from UA, was named to replace Mike Adras, who resigned.
Murphy has spent the past three seasons at Memphis on the staff of Josh Pastner, who was a former Arizona player and assistant coach.
"I'm overjoyed," Murphy said on a teleconference call announcing the hire Thursday. "It hasn't hit me yet, but I'm excited for what's ahead."
Although Murphy is only 32, Lisa Campos, NAU's vice president of athletics, said age was not a concern given Murphy's maturity and experience level. Murphy has worked under Olson at UA, under George Karl with the NBA' s Denver Nuggets and with Pastner at Memphis.
The Wildcats and Lumberjacks have played an annual nonconference game at McKale Center, and Murphy said he would be interested in continuing it even though UA has shown no interest in playing at Flagstaff.