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Arizona Wildcats basketball: On Ashley's rehab, J.B's return and other notes

Arizona forward Brandon Ashley (21) gets some love from graduate assistant coach Joseph Blair, left, after a made basket during the second half of the No. 1 University of Arizona Wildcats vs. Arizona State University men's college basketball game on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014, at McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz. Arizona won 91-68. Photo by Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Star

Before he takes off to help coach USA Basketball’s U18 team next week in Colorado Springs, Sean Miller held an offseason media gathering today at McKale.

Some noteworthy items from it:

 Brandon Ashley will return to Tucson for both summer sessions, and Miller is expecting him to make significant progress on his injured foot. Miller said ideally Ashley will be back to full contact sometime in August.

“He’s a little bit over four months (since his Feb. 1 injury) and this four months really was about healing,” Miller said, "really allowing everything to take shape, to stay off it. The one thing he’s doing is he’s started to walk under water. He has less and less soreness; it’s not pain anymore.

“We look at June, July, August as being pivotal. At that point we would like to see him return to form and be out there. He’s been in a difficult situation of taking it slow. It’s not easy just to do nothing.

“He’s lifting weights and when he comes back he’s going to be on a mission to returning back to five-on-five fullcourt. And once he does that we have to be smart making sure we push him and yet not push him too much. But so far so good with Brandon. We expect a full recovery, not only here but allowing him to leave Arizona and have a long career beyond.”

--- Joseph Blair will return to an on-the-floor role as a graduate assistant next season. Blair was an undergraduate assistant last season as he finished up his degree, and was often praised for his work around the basket with Kaleb Tarczewski and UA's other big men.

“It allows him to have a very similar role,” Miller said. “He was a great addition to this past year, especially with our frontcourt players, and there’s more frontcourt players on our team than there were a year ago and I think J.B. will continue to be an asset for us this year.”

Blair says he now wants to pursue a master’s in education leadership while also going after a coaching career. Miller said he’s talked to Blair about coaching and told him “he’d be a terrific coach, whether college or the NBA because he has such an incredible way with players. They love him.”

 Miller confirmed that assistant director of operations Danny Peters will leave to join James Whitford’s Ball State staff as an assistant coach, a move that should become official in the next few days.

Former UA manager Ben Tucker will return to the Wildcats to take Peters’ spot as assistant director of operations, a role that Miller typically uses to develop aspiring coaches.

“That’s what this is about,” Miller said. “James left here to be a head coach at Ball State and obviously it makes perfect sense why he would want Danny as part of his staff.”

 On Tucker, Miller said: “As important for me (as Tucker’s UA experience) (since then) he’s worked at Walsh University for an incredible coach (Jeff Young) and that coach raves about him. And this past year he worked for (College of Idaho coach) Scott Garson, a former UCLA assistant in Boise. They rave about his work ethic and his mind for the game….

"I know he’s excited about it and we’re equally excited. That’s an important position because they wear many hats, they’re a big part of our scouting and our coaching from the perspective of teaching the players our system. They have to have a great basketball mind. That’s what we had with Danny Peters and I think we continue that with Ben Tucker.”

 Miller was named to the NABC board, a move he called a “great honor” especially considering the prominent coaches who have served on it.

 Miller will leave early next week for the U18 trials in Colorado Springs and the ensuing qualifying tournament that will be held there later this month. As an assistant coach on Billy Donovan’s U18 staff, Miller will get a chance to work with incoming freshman Stanley Johnson as well as UA commits Tyler Dorsey and Justin Simon (and UA target Stephen Zimmerman) but said the experience will not be about recruiting.

“It’s somewhat awkward for me because I like to be around our own team and in Tucson, the place where you work,” Miller said. “But when this came across as an opportunity, really a number of things made a lot of sense. As a coach you have an opportunity to get better. Sometimes when you just keep doing the same things, in the same place, it’s the status quo from one year to the next and you can not develop in your own right. But being around Billy Donovan, (Providence coach) Ed Cooley, the international game, having an opportunity to coach some of the great young players in our game I think it allows you as a coach to improve and get better.”

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