Despite all the attention being paid to Arizona’s newcomers, the Wildcats’ core of returning players will have a lot to say about the team’s success next year. Even with a devastating recruiting class and one of the nation’s most prominent transfers (Xavier’s Mark Lyons), Arizona will still need its veterans to stand tall if it’s going to follow through on its immense potential for the 2012-13 season.
One player facing a put-up-or-shut-up year is promising guard Jordin Mayes. Although Mayes was a four-star recruit two years ago, he’s been an unremarkable bench player so far, and next season may be his last chance to grab a major role in the Wildcat rotation.
Read on for more on Mayes and where he falls among the key veterans who could help make it a thriller of a season for Arizona fans.
Note: this list excludes the four returning walk-ons on the Arizona roster. None appeared in more than four games, so expecting any measurable impact from them seems overly optimistic.
6’9” Angelo Chol was one of the biggest bodies on the Arizona roster a year ago, but the freshman forward didn’t get much playing time.
Despite getting on the floor for just 12.1 minutes per game, though, Chol led the undersized Wildcats with 0.8 blocks a night in 2011-12.
Although improving the defense will be an obvious goal for coach Sean Miller, Chol is likely to play more than a bit part in that effort.
With three elite freshmen 6’8” or taller all arriving in next year’s recruiting class, Chol will need to develop enormously over the offseason if he wants to see any increase in the meager playing time he earned a year ago.
After an intriguing freshman season in which he shot .453 from three-point range in limited minutes, Jordin Mayes regressed in 2011-12.
The 6’2” SG posted the same 4.9 points per game he had done the year before, but his previous strength became a weakness as his long-range accuracy plummeted to .297.
Mayes has potential if he can put it all together for his junior year, but he’s going to be on a very short leash.
Arizona needs its backcourt to space the floor for the hulking freshmen down low, and if Mayes can’t get the job done, newcomer Gabe York—the runt of the recruiting class at “only” four stars—will likely step in and take over as the No. 2 shooting guard.
Kevin Parrom endured a nightmarish junior year: his mother and grandmother both passed away, and he suffered serious injuries off the court (gunshot wounds to the leg and hand before the season started) and on it (a broken foot that ended his year in late January).
When he was able to play, Parrom remained a versatile bench option who contributed five points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game as a swingman.
As one of the few rising seniors on the roster, the resilient Parrom will play a vital role as a leader for a young team (regardless of his role on the floor).
In addition, he’s one of the only natural small forwards available for Sean Miller, so he’s a safe bet to be a valuable reserve again in his final collegiate season.
At just 6’6”, Solomon Hill put in a terrific effort as the Wildcats’ power forward in 2011-12. He led the squad with 7.7 rebounds per game, and his 13 points a night were second-best on the roster.
Although Hill is decidedly the best of Arizona’s returnees, his impact will be blunted somewhat by the influx of bigger low-post stars in Sean Miller’s recruiting class.
Moving to SF is a distinct possibility—he did shoot .394 from long range last season—but the move to the perimeter would likely cut down on the rebounding performance that made Hill so special a season ago.
Nick Johnson’s debut season in Tucson wasn’t exactly on par with Anthony Davis’ at Kentucky, but the freshman SG made a respectable account of himself.
Johnson scored nine points a game (along with 3.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists per contest) and shot .331 from three-point range as a freshman.
Johnson earns the top spot on this list because he has a great chance to take Arizona to another level with a big year.
With Xavier transfer Mark Lyons worrying about running the offense as the new PG, Johnson needs to become a go-to perimeter scorer to take some heat off the big boys inside—a job that the erstwhile five-star recruit is eminently capable of performing.