Arizona basketball has been on a roller coaster this past month.
The Wildcats were ousted by Ohio State in the Sweet Sixteen on March 28 and the following week brought news that the Pac-12 head of officials allegedly put a bounty for any official that "rang up" or "ran" head coach Sean Miller.
Good news finally came to the 'Cats when the nation's No. 4 player committed to Arizona on April 2 and signed on the 17th. Arizona finished the year ranked No. 14 after spending the bulk of the season in the top 10, but the roller coaster kept moving.
On the same day that Gordon signed, forward Grant Jerrett decided to make himself eligible for the 2013 NBA draft. Jerrett, the 6'10", 235-pound freshman from Chino Hills, Calif., was a 5-star recruit out of high school and ranked by ESPN as the overall No. 9 recruit in the Top 100.
Jerrett started the first two games but was quickly relegated to coming off the bench with the emergence of fellow freshman Brandon Ashley. Jerrett averaged 17.8 minutes per game coming off the bench but failed to prove that he deserved a starting role averaging a mere 5.2 points and 3.6 rebounds per game.
With the addition of three new freshmen this year, here is a list of what each must prove in their freshman season.
- Position: Forward
- Height: 6'8"
- Weight: 215 pounds
- High School: Archbishop Mitty High School
- Hometown: San Jose, Calif.
- Rivals Ranking: No. 3 (5-star)
- ESPN 100 Rank: No. 4 (5-star)
- 247 Sports Rank: No. 5 (5-star)
- Scout Ranking: No. 9 (5-star)
Aaron Gordon is a phenomenal athlete and the top-ranked player coming out of the state of California. Gordon's size will allow him to play the small or the power forward position and he can even fill in at center if needed. He dominates on the glass and is a first-class defender.
Although he has the versatility to play the 1, 2 or 3 at any given time, Gordon will need to improve his mid-range shooting and realize that not everybody is going to allow him open lanes for the easy bucket.
Gordon dominated the McDonald's All-American game with some beautiful dunks, but if he is to be an one-and-done, as is widely predicted, he will first need to play against other seasoned college veterans in the always-competitive Pac-12.
He will have the opportunity to start and will have a stellar backcourt in T.J. McConnell and Nick Johnson feeding him the rock non-stop, so he will need to work on his mid-range and long-range shots.
Grant Jerrett's biggest strength was his ability to nail the three-point basket almost at will, as he led the team in that department, knocking down 40.5 percent of his attempts.
- Position: Forward
- Height: 6'6"
- Weight: 205 pounds
- High School: Chester High School
- Hometown: Chester, Pa.
- ESPN 100 Rank: No. 16 (5-star)
- Scout Ranking: No. 17 (5-star)
- 247 Sports Rank: No. 18 (5-star)
- Rivals Ranking: No. 21 (5-star)
The small forward from Chester, Pa. was the marquee signing for Coach Miller and the Wildcats last September. Hollis-Jefferson is the prototypical small forward that is of smaller stature than Gordon, but his versatility will allow him to play the power forward or center position when Miller wants to play "small ball."
His athleticism and competitive nature make him an incredible asset to the the frontcourt for the 'Cats. Coach Miller likened him to former forward Solomon Hill, stating that he's "a warrior" and "similar to Solomon in that he can do a lot of things."
With the early departure of Grant Jerrett, this leaves the power forward position seemingly open for Brandon Ashley with Aaron Gordon at small forward. Hollis-Jefferson said back in September that he signed with Arizona because he would "have a chance to start right away."
This no longer seems to be a certainty, so Hollis-Jefferson will need to prove that he can fill Kevin Parrom's slot by being a dominant sixth man coming off the bench. His mid-range and long-range shooting is improving and he will be the heir apparent to the starting small forward position if Gordon departs after one season.
- Position: Shooting Guard
- Height: 6'5"
- Weight: 185 pounds
- High School: De La Salle High School
- Hometown: Concord, Calif.
- ESPN 100 Rank: No. 100 (4-star)
- Scout Ranking: No. 117 (4-star)
- Rivals Ranking: No. 126 (3-star)
- 247 Sports Rank: No. 150 (3-star)
Elliott Pitts is a developing player that comes from a solid high school program and will benefit greatly from learning under the tutelage of Coach Miller and watching starting shooting guard Nick Johnson.
Nobody expects Pitts to challenge Johnson for the shooting guard position, but he is more along the lines of freshman guard Gabe York. Both Pitts and York were highly recruited out of high school and are diamonds in the rough that need polishing.
One area that he will need to improve on is his physicality. He will need to build mass, and Miller believes that Pitts is still going to grow and will put on the needed weight once he arrives at school in the fall.
Pitts will join a crowded backcourt with T.J. McConnell, Johnson, York and Jacob Hazzard, and he'll be fighting for limited minutes in his first year. The main thing that Coach Miller will be looking for in Pitts is that he is learning and buying into the program as a team player.
He will need to prove that he is patient and willing to learn the way things are played at Arizona and be ready and willing to contribute at a moment's notice. If he does exactly as he is told, he has a great possibility to find himself in the starting lineup by his junior or senior year.
- Position: Point Guard
- Height: 6'1"
- Weight: 190 pounds
- High School: Chartiers Valley High School
- Hometown: Bridgeville, Pa.
T.J. McConnell has spent the last season practicing and learning the offensive scheme so that he will be able to hit the ground running in the 2013-14 season. He will be instrumental in running the point for Coach Miller and the Wildcats. As my colleague Josh Mozell states:
McConnell is the quintessential guy and the cure to many of the Arizona's ailments this past season. He is a heady pass-first guard, averaging 5.5 assists and only 2.6 turnovers as a sophomore at Duquesne.
Last season's point guard, Mark Lyons was a dead-on shooter but lacked in the passing game. Lyons took the weight of every game on his shoulders and almost refused to pass the ball in close games. It was quite evident when the shooting guard led the team in assists, not the point guard.
With so many weapons in the frontcourt in Gordon, Ashley, Tarczewski and Hollis-Jefferson, McConnell is the court general that can lead this team to another championship.
In the end, isn't that what it's all about?