By pumping in 25 points on Wednesday against Houston Baptist, Arizona Wildcats sophomore wing Brandon Randolph made it clear he’s jumped head-first into a completely different role this season.
Randolph averaged just 3.7 points and 11.6 minutes per game last season, a role player on a team that relied heavily on Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins for wing scoring.
“Brandon is a great example of an improved player,” UA coach Sean Miller said. “A lot of these guys practiced very hard a year ago. They were playing against some great talent. … They learned our system and then they followed that up with a very hard-working offseason.”
But as the Wildcats wade into their final two home tuneups before the ultra-competitive Maui Invitational, hosting Cal Poly on Sunday afternoon and UTEP on Wednesday, just about everybody else is still settling into completely different roles.
Not only do the Wildcats have four new players plus newly eligible transfer Chase Jeter but also, because they lost all five starters, all returners are being asked to move up at least a bit. That even includes former walk-on Jake DesJardins, who was given a scholarship and is now serving emergency post player duties.
Junior Dylan Smith is the only returnee so far with a somewhat similar role — the top guard reserve — and even he’s added significant leadership and defensive responsibilities.
“It’s just a little different,” Smith said. “Coach Miller is expecting a few more things out of me, guarding the team’s other best player when I’m in, and just being more vocal. The leadership aspect is big.”
Smith said fellow returnees Emmanuel Akot, Alex Barcello, Ira Lee and Randolph have all improved considerably, too.
“They’ve grown from last year and their roles are bigger so we’re gonna need them to do good,” Smith said. “What Brandon is doing right now is great for our team and hopefully he’ll continue to do it. Everybody is really contributing. It’s not that it wasn’t more of a team last year but it’s that everybody has a role and more people have bigger roles.”
Here’s one look at how the Wildcats’ individual roles break down, between what they had last season and what they are trying to jump into now:
Brandon Randolph, sophomore guard/forward
Last season: Backup wing, averaging 11.6 minutes per game, the seventh-most on the roster. He scored in double figures four times, with 17 points in UA’s loss to Purdue in the Battle 4 Atlantis.
This season: Go-to guy and starter at small forward. Randolph played 31 minutes Wednesday and shot 8 for 12 from the field.
Miller said it: “Brandon Randolph is off to a tremendous start. The 25 points, that’s something we’re very happy about. I hope he gets 25 again on Sunday. There’s always things he can do better … but Brandon is on the right track.”
Brandon Williams, freshman combo guard
Last season: Played restricted minutes early in his high school senior season while returning from a knee injury, but finished with an average of 24.7 points per game at Crespi High School.
This season: Do-it-all guy — the starting shooting guard, backup point guard and key scorer. Averaged 18.5 points over two exhibition games but had just 13 after making only 2 of 11 field goals against Houston Baptist.
Miller said it: “Brandon didn’t shoot the ball as well as he’s capable but he did not let that affect the other aspects of his game. I think he’s been very effective shooting.”
Justin Coleman, senior point guard
Last season: Led the Southern Conference in assists (210) while averaging 13.5 points, 2.8 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game for Samford.
This season: Heart-and-soul guy — the starting point guard and team co-captain. Has had 11 assists and seven turnovers collectively in UA’s two exhibition games and the regular-season opener.
Miller said it: “Justin is a tremendous person, off the court, in the locker room, on a daily basis. I haven’t been around too many people that I’ve coached that are the same every day like him. He brings a smile to everybody, he’s just a great, great kid.”
Ryan Luther, senior power forward
Last season: Led Pitt in scoring (12.7) and rebounding (10.1) over 10 early season games before sitting out the rest of the season with a stress reaction in his right foot. He received a medical redshirt waiver, and then decided to spend the additional season at Arizona after Pitt fired coach Kevin Stallings.
This season: Similar role, but in a different uniform. Expected to be a top frontcourt scoring threat who can stretch defenses with his 3-point shooting ability. Set a Miller-era UA record by bench-pressing 185 pounds 25 times.
Miller said it: “He’s been through a lot. He’s older, he’s stronger. … He can bring some things to the table to help us, strength and experience.”
Chase Jeter, junior center
Last season: Sat out the required redshirt season after transferring from Duke, where he was a reserve player averaging 2.1 points and 2.2 rebounds over his two seasons.
This season: Co-captain and starting center … and only player on roster above 6 feet 9 inches. Had first career double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds) against Houston Baptist.
Miller said it: “Chase is a really bright kid, maybe the best student we’ve had. Very cerebral, thinks things through. He’s very, very mobile and the way he thinks is his strength.”
Emmanuel Akot, sophomore forward
Last season: Reserve forward who averaged 1.8 points and 10.4 minutes while appearing in only 31 of 35 games. After skipping his senior season of high school and also battling knee tendinitis, he didn’t become the defender Miller projected he would be in the preseason.
This season: Key reserve forward. Probably UA’s best frontcourt passer and has versatility to help in many areas, but may most often appear at power forward out of necessity. Had seven points and three rebounds against HBU.
Miller said it: “I compare Emmanuel to Solomon (Hill, who played both forward spots from 2009-10 to 2012-13) because they both have great instincts. They’re like playmakers and yet they’re not a point guard. Both guys had to improve as shooters. … His shooting is something he’s working hard on but he also brings a number of things to our table that will be valuable.”
Ira Lee, sophomore forward
Last season: Reserve who appeared in 27 of 35 games. Did not play in seven late-season and Pac-12 Tournament games after suffering a concussion.
This season: Key reserve at center and power forward. Served a one-game suspension against HBU after being charged with super extreme DUI in August.
Miller said it: “Although he didn’t play in the season opener — I wish we had him — he’s full-go and the role that he’ll have on Sunday would have been the role that he would have had if he played in the first game.”
Dylan Smith, junior guard
Last season: Sixth man who started eight games. Averaged 14.6 minutes and 4.3 points while shooting 33.0 percent from 3-point range. He was hitting 3s at a 37.2 percent rate before missing all 11 long-range shots he took between the Pac-12 and NCAA Tournaments.
This season: Sixth man with at least more spot starts likely. Offensive role won’t change, though he now may be the team’s top perimeter defender.
Miller said it: “There’s a lot of other aspects of the game he can really help us with and he’s done that. He’s been in our program for three years. That’s to his advantage. I also think Dylan wants to win.”
Alex Barcello, sophomore guard
Last season: Deep reserve guard. Barcello started last season as a backup point guard to Parker Jackson-Cartwright but rarely played significant minutes in Pac-12 games after suffering an ankle injury in December, with Miller more often sliding over Allonzo Trier to help out at the point.
This season: Reserve guard. Barcello is the team’s third point guard option behind Coleman and Williams, and one of several options on the wing. Miller has called him the team’s best shooter and, if that holds true, he’ll get plenty of minutes on a team that needs outside shooting to overcome its lack of size.
Miller said it: “I don’t think it’s a negative at all that Alex didn’t play more (last season). We tried to put our best team on the court and it was a combination of talent and experience. But when you’re on a team like that, even though you don’t shine in games, you can really thrive in practice and you can grow.”
Devonaire Doutrive, freshman guard
Last season: Named honorable mention all-California by MaxPreps after averaging 27 points, 10 rebounds and six assists as a senior at Birmingham High School in Lake Balboa.
This season: Deep reserve guard. Doutrive has intrigued with his athleticism and confidence, though it’s unclear if he can crack the regular rotation of a guard-heavy team.
Miller said it: “Physically, he’s like a young colt. The best is yet to come for him and you can almost see that. What we’re trying to do right now is get him better on defense and really try to get him to think about what role he can have.”
Jake DesJardins, junior forward
Last season: DesJardins was walk-on practice player. He appeared in three games for a team that had Deandre Ayton, Dusan Ristic, Ira Lee, Keanu Pinder and Akot in the frontcourt.
This season: Received a scholarship and will play an emergency frontcourt role if needed because of player absences or foul trouble. Played five minutes against HBU with Lee suspended.
Miller said it: “Jake embodies all the elements we want to have as a culture, on and off the court. Somebody who cares a lot about his teammates and winning, who comes to work every day, whether in practice, preparation for the upcoming team, in the weight room, off the court, offseason. When you’re a walk-on (doing those things) and you’re paying your own way, that says even more about the character of Jake.”