Devastating. Disappointing. Forgettable.
Words that often surface when discussing the 2011-2012 season in review.
After coming off their stellar 2010-2011 Elite 8 run, the following season never left the starting gates. The hype would only recycle itself as the Cats would wind up in the preseason rankings, sitting at No. 16. The polls wound up affecting their play, as they were quick to point out, 16 was far too lofty of an expectation.
Depth appears to be the recurring word around campus these days. With the talent thriving on deck, the Wildcats look to have reclaimed their national identity once again. Claiming the No. 3 spot on ESPN’s Top 25 list of recruiting schools, Arizona landed the likes of guard Gabe York, power forwards Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett, and center Kaleb Tarczewski.
The absence of size underneath seemed to be the Achilles' heel of the team last season, as they were forced to play a 6'7" Jesse Perry. Helping bolster that presence or lack-there-of, Arizona landed New Hampshire’s five-start recruit Kaleb Tarczewski. Listed at 7' and 240 lbs, Tarczewski will look to fill the role of Center immediately.
Another terminal issue that set the Cats back last season was their inconsistency from the point. After seeing former point guard, LaMont ‘Momo’ Jones leave, Miller has become accustomed to bad fortune when it comes to student-athletes leaving. The Jones proposed replacement, Josiah Turner, would be no different.
Making 29 appearances, (17 starts), averaging 6.8 points per game, 3.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game, true freshman point guard Turner appeared to be the missing piece in the Wildcats front court. He displayed all the necessary abilities of a point guard, appropriately managing the game by his acrobatic passes and exceptional court vision.
Turner wound up getting caught in the spotlight and overlooked the fine print the job curtails—being a student first. Turner’s inability to corral his off-the-court bouts with the team’s rules labeled him as one of the cancers of the team and a defining reason for their inability to escape mediocrity.
After running up all of his lifelines, coach Sean Miller had no choice but to suspend Turner indefinitely for the second time, costing him the Pac-12 conference championship, and a shot at extending their season into the big dance.
Ultimately, enough was enough. Turner ran his course with Arizona, and elected to transfer to SMU to help lift the Larry Brown era into full effect.
Wasting no time for dwelling on Turner’s absence, Miller landed the likes of 6'1" Duquesne transfer and floor general T.J. McConnell. McConnell averaged 11.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 2.8 steals per game for Duquesne University, helping the Dukes to a 16-15 record.
However, McConnell will have to sit out the entire 2012 campaign, due to the NCAA transfer eligibility rules. With McConnell sidelined, Miller had to dig deep into his recruiting arsenal.
Arizona struck gold when Miller’s ties with his former school warranted him a veteran guard. The Wildcats acquired Mark Lyons, a 6'1" transfer guard from Xavier. Lyons averaged 15.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.3 steals per game, leading the Musketeers to a 23-13 record and a berth in the NCAA South Regional semifinal.
Lyons, a graduate of Xavier, who recently earned his degree as a sociology major, has one remaining year let on his eligibility card to magnify his résumé and bolster the Cats front court presence.
Lyons will assume the role as the teacher for four-star recruit, Gabe York. York, a 6'1" guard out of Orange, CA, was one of the nation’s top high-school scorers.
After witnessing Derrick Williams blossom into a rising star in his second year, and develop into the No. 2 overall pick and Pac-10 player of the Year, these next recruits wanted to acquaint themselves into the same mixture.
Jerrett, a 6'10", 220 pound player, is considered a hybrid performer, and one that will gel well within Miller’s system. Jerrett is a physical player who can put up big numbers on both ends. The only factor left remains time.
Passing up Kentucky and coach John Calipari’s offer to join the NCAA champions, Ashley envisioned something greater trending down in the desert. Coming off a national championship of his own with the NBA ‘feeder system’ of Findlay College Prep, Ashley knows what its like to win.
Ashley, yet another 2012 five-star recruit landed, comes in at a lanky 6'8", and 215 lbs. Listed as a power forward, Ashley will pose as a threat anytime he has the ball in his hands, with the ability to post up anywhere and hit the knock down jumper, or spot up beyond the arc.
If the 2012-2013 depth chart didn’t already register as rich in talent, why not solidify the label of contenders with one more piece. Coach Miller needed to look no further as Arizona nabbed home-grown talent in 6'9" junior college transfer Matt Korcheck.
Apart from the tabbed ‘fab four’ of York, Jerrett, Ashley, and Tarczewski, Korcheck will provide the length and physicality to propel Arizona over the hump.
As it sits, Nick Johnson, Grant Jerrett, Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley, Gabe York, Korcheck and Angelo Chol create one of the most prolific formations of underclassmen in the country.
On paper, Arizona is stacked across the board. Only time will tell if Miller can develop his recruits into the players they know themselves to be, as well as receive the point production out of his returning players.
Can Kevin Parrom stay healthy? Hopefully last year’s season-ending injury was because of his pre-mature return back to the court. Can Johnson and Chol make the first-year leap into second-year stardom? How will Arizona’s tabbed ‘fab-four’ service the team?
Placing lofty expectations onto freshmen doesn’t always pan out as predicted. Yet, under the guise of veteran players in Solomon Hill, Nick Johnson, and a healthy Kevin Parrom, the Cats will have an assortment of valuable options to fire at any time off the bench.
Wildcat fans across the country saw what happens when the hype becomes exaggerated, so although this year’s recruiting class exceeds the year’s previous, it is only proper to proceed with caution.