Arizona Wildcats Recovering Quickly After Derrick Williams, MoMo Jones Depart
Here's the beauty of Sean Miller's two-year resurrection of the Arizona hoops program:
Despite losing the potential No. 1 NBA draft choice in phenom Derrick Williams (though Kyrie Irving appears to be the consensus pick,) and a fiery, clutch point guard in MoMo Jones (the team's second-leading scorer in 2010-11), the outlook for next season is still heavy on potential.
Headed to Tucson, Ariz. are four of the country's elite recruits and set to return are seven rotation regulars, including three starters. Arizona will enter next October with a higher level of expectations than the last one (and that ended with a mad dash through March).
Come inside for a closer look at what Arizona lost from last season's Elite Eight run, followed by the reasons the program is on the verge of another deep tourney trek despite those departures:
(Remember, people: this piece is based on the observations of one writer who is a lifelong follower of University of Arizona sports, an unabashedly-biased view point. The experts on Arizona basketball (those who follow it closely on a day-in, day-out basis and have access to the program's key figures) include: Bruce Pascoe, Greg Hansen and Patrick Finley of the Arizona Daily Star, Anthony Gimino and staff of TucsonCitizen.com, Jody Oehler of 1490-AM Tucson, and the crews of PointGuardU.com, the Wildcat Sports Report and GOAZCATS.com . Most of the opinions formed in this writer's articles and slideshows are gleaned off of the hard information provided by those sources. Expect them to be linked to often. Read/listen to them all.)
The Incomparable Derrick Williams
Derrick Williams is difficult to compare to any other player in Arizona history, a program better known for its factory-line production of NBA-star guards, not forwards.
How's this for the current crew of Arizona guards in the Association?: Jason Terry, Mike Bibby, Jerryd Bayless, Richard Jefferson, Gilbert Arenas, Chase Budinger, Mustafa Shakur (Stephen Jackson and Brandon Jennings were both committed to Arizona, but failed to qualify or opted to go overseas).
The Arizona-to-NBA forwards list is strong, but not nearly as extensive.
As a combo-forward, Derrick Williams is closest to a hybrid between Andre Iguodala and Channing Frye, two of the players noted by Lute Olson in this D-Will comparison piece from Bruce Pascoe.
Though not as quick or nearly the caliber of Iguodala as a ball-handler, Williams owns similar explosion and a blazing first step for a 6'9” forward. Plus, he has a soft stroke for a post player, the same skill that made millions for Frye in the NBA.
Outside of the Arizona basketball realm, Williams reminds many of Michael Beasley, minus the major character flaws and the second-lamest tattoo in the NBA (Is 'Supercool Beas' really the best you could do? First place goes to Andrei Kirilenko's World of WarCraft geek stamp).
Though a couple inches shorter than Beasley (who averaged 19.2 points and 5.6 boards for the Timberwolves this season), Williams is the superior rebounder.
He needs to work on his handle and develop a quicker release to maximize his game, but Williams should enjoy a long, double-double-filled career.
No More MoMo Jones or Jamelle Horne
There's nothing gained by losing MoMo Jones (except an open scholarship), but the truth of the matter is that he was probably closer to becoming the next Nic Wise than the next Mike Bibby.
Jones' best assets were his guts and his Bronx confidence, which was sometimes justified and sometimes completely out of control, but almost always exciting to watch.
His skills were effective, not efficient. He shot 42 percent from the field and 32 percent from the three-point line (though he was an 83-percent free-throw shooter).
Overall averages of 9.7 points, 1.6 assists and 2.4 rebounds were sound. But the turnover issues were a nightmare (just 93 assists to 72 turnovers last year), and he would occasionally disappear altogether (he went 0-for-6 for zero points and two assists in Arizona's second-round thriller over Texas).
Still, Arizona followers seemed drawn to Jones, and rightfully so.
He was cool under pressure, evidenced by the series of crucial shots he drilled in a triple-overtime win over Cal last year, a win that sparked the late-season surge. Jones also went off for 18 points (but with no assists) in the NCAA opener versus Memphis, and he was key to the rout of Duke in the Sweet 16, scoring 16 on 6-of-10 shooting and six assists.
Jones brought a constant energy, an edge that Arizona needed, and will need to be re-created next season. Given the playing time, he'll be a sweet addition to whichever school gets his services, as he is headed back East to be closer to his grandmother.
And don't forget about the graduation of forward Jamelle Horne. Though he never developed into the star it was believed he could become four years ago, Horne slowly (sometimes painfully) grew up, turning into an outside threat and a quality all-around option off the bench.
Horne provided much-needed athleticism and depth down low to go along with the deft touch from long range (over 40 percent from the three-point line in 2010-11).
Nick Johnson, Josiah Turner, Angelo Chol and Sidiki Johnson: The Fresh Faces
Someone needed to leave in order to make room for one of the most-hyped recruiting classes in Arizona lore. There were only three scholarships for four incoming players before MoMo Jones left.
The numbers now work.
All of the four freshmen-to-be are expected to have huge impacts at Arizona. Here's a one-line preview for each:
(No. 5 shooting-guard prospect via ESPN.com): An incredible leaper despite only standing 6'3”, Johnson developed a total package after transferring from the Phoenix, Ariz. area to prep-power Findlay College Prep in Nevada.
(No. 9 power-forward prospect via ESPN.com): The all-time leading shot blocker in the history of California high school hoops, the 6'8” Chol, who is originally from Sudan, will be counted on to become a major presence on the defensive end while his offense is refined.
(No. 18 power-forward prospect via ESPN.com): The sleeper of this class, 6'8” "Freaki" Sidiki Johnson is yet another prospect from New York City, a sharp-shooting big man with the ability to stretch defenses.
Give the love to PointGuardU.com, an excellent Arizona hoops site, for several of the videos in this slide.
Kyle Fogg, Jordin Mayes, Brendon Lavender: An Experienced Core in the Backcourt
Jordin Mayes (pictured) became the unsung star of the Arizona backcourt once the season bled into tourney time. A smooth, quiet player, he was in stark contrast to the choppy, loud MoMo Jones last season at the point-guard spot.
By the end of the year, Mayes was the superior shooter (45 percent from three-point land) and initiator of the offense out of that duo, though he tended to kill the opposition softly, with a more laid-back persona than Jones. He'll battle Josiah Turner for the starting point guard role.
But expect to see Arizona play three guards at a time plenty this season, so Mayes and Turner could also be on the court together often.
Kyle Fogg never gets the love that he deserves.
Fogg seems to have a tendency to irritate Sean Miller, leading to the occasional benching. But the long-armed shooting guard is the best defender in Arizona's backcourt, even if his offense has holes (37-percent field-goal shooter). NBAdraft.net currently has him slated to go in the second round of next year's NBA draft.
And the final returning member of the backcourt rotation, Brendon Lavender, can play either the shooting guard or small forward slots. A reliable defender at 6'5" and a sometimes-effective three-point shooter, the Arizona native (out of Mesa Mountain View High School), will have to stay hot from long range to maintain minutes in a loaded backcourt. But he should be another option off the bench.
Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom Are Future Pros
Remember that shortage of Arizona forwards who are playing in the NBA in comparison to the Wildcat guards playing in the Association that I mentioned earlier?
That could start to slightly even out upon the graduation of Solomon Hill (pictured) and Kevin Parrom in two years.
Solomon Hill, a Southern California product, is the closest thing to a complete player on the team (8.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists on average).
An outstanding passer for a thick-bodied, 6'6”, 226-pound forward, Hill is also a quality dribbler for a player his size. When he opts to be aggressive with his own scoring rather than distributing, he's also able to do damage.
Although the numbers are not flashy, based on the overall skill set, the guess here is that he will be headed into the NBA following his senior season.
Kevin Parrom is one of the enforcers of this roster. He brings the muscle from his forward slot, as physicality is one of his keys to success. But he also owns excellent slashing ability and a surprisingly sound outside stroke (42 percent three-point shooter, 51-percent from field-goal range).
Another Bronx product, Parrom will not back down defensively, and when he was given the green light to become a scorer (such as late in the triple-overtime victory over California last year), he proved capable.
Hill and Parrom both appear to have pro-level potential with two more years of growth (NBAdraft.net already lists Hill as the 43rd-best prospect in the class of 2013).
Even if it's not in the Association, these two will be playing basketball for a living somewhere in the world in a few years.
Jesse Perry's Emergence in the Paint
Jesse Perry is a rarity: A junior college player out of John A. Logan College in Illinois by way of St. Louis, Perry easily made the transition to Division-I basketball, becoming a starter for an Elite Eight-bound crew by late December.
On a team that is starting to become flooded by high-profile recruits, Perry was lightly regarded by comparison, and he went about his journey in a gritty fashion, which is exactly how he plays.
The 6'7" Perry is another key to the suddenly physical nature of the Arizona program, an attribute that suited the Wildcats in the NCAA tourney.
The owner of the largest mass of hair at Arizona since Eugene Edgerson, Perry is an astute rebounder (despite being slightly undersized for that role) and a serviceable scorer who can thrive even without the ball in his hands.
Although he was one of the last options offensively on the court among the starting five, Perry proved capable of putting points on the board if left lightly guarded: In Arizona's two-point loss to UConn in the Elite Eight, Perry was second on the team with 14 points and added seven rebounds, a performance that is sure to spur confidence entering his final season in Tucson
And what Sean Miller really likes about Perry is his consistent fire, as noted in this piece by the Arizona Daily Star's Bruce Pascoe:
"Jesse has that energy level that we really covet. He's a big part of that. He has real good quickness. Sometimes he has to make up for his lack of size. But he does add somebody that we didn't have a year ago."
Kyryl Natyazhko Finding Himself Inside
Kyryl Natyazhko was a slow developer in his first two years at Arizona. But he eventually matured into a defensive stopper in the NCAA tourney, largely shutting down Texas' Tristan Thompson, a likely lottery pick, in the second-round win over the Longhorns.
When Natyazhko signed on to come to Arizona as part of Miller's first class, he was considered a legitimately major recruit.
And while still rugged offensively, the chiseled 6'11", 264-pound Ukrainian finally seemed comfortable with his role in the program at the end of last year.
He will likely be battling freshman Angelo Chol for the starting role at the center spot, with third-stringer Alex “Tree” Jacobson likely to play sparingly throughout the season, similar to last year.
These Are Sean Miller's Guys: Only Three Players Left from the Previous Regime
The last remnants of the Lute Olson-Kevin O'Neill-Russ Pennell days will be playing out their final seasons at Arizona this year: Kyle Fogg, Brendan Lavender, Alex Jacobson are all set to use up their eligibility.
Every other regular rotation player on the roster was brought in by Sean Miller and his staff.
And Miller is already in the process of nabbing the hot names for the next several seasons to come, drawing healthy interest from several highly-regarded prospects, including future lottery picks Grant Jerrett and Shabazz Muhammad.
Suddenly among the most-coveted coaches in the country, Miller's brief flirtation with the Maryland opening sent Arizona followers into panic mode for one agonizing weekend.
But with the way things are currently rolling for Miller in taking back ownership of the Pac-10 (soon to be the Pac-12), there was just too much to love to leave it all behind.
Don't forget, Arizona went to the Elite Eight in Miller's second year at Arizona, and they did it with a batch of solid recruits and a few contributors from the former era.
Now that the haul is starting to transform into the premier prospects in the country, as Lute Olson said in this story just after the announcement that Miller was indeed staying put, Arizona is again en route to building the pre-eminent power on the West Coast.