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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    New blue chips: The Frosh 5

    The Niya Butts era of basketball is compounded with a surge of new faces including five freshmen.

    Four guards and one center, all hailing from the Golden State of California, hope to make an impact on this year’s team, especially in the offense. New faces mean an adjustment to the style of play and acclimation to basketball at a higher level of play.

    “”We’re outweighed by newcomers than we are from veteran players,”” said head coach Niya Butts. “”From that comes an impact.””

    Although Butts herself did not recruit any of the freshmen players, they have adapted to her system and the energy she brings to the court. They have already noticed Butts’ attention to detail and her dedication to improvement.

    “”She’s not going to let down on you,”” said freshman guard Reiko Thomas. “”She’s going to continue to be on you for every little thing, but that’s something that we need if we want to improve and get better and win.””

    With the exceptions of center Malia Nahinu and guard Courtney Clements, who are limited by preseason injuries, all of the freshmen have seen playing time in the exhibition games. With the return of Nahinu and Clements, the team will improve its size advantage and bench depth, but for now, three will speak for five.

    Rather than see the injuries as a negative start to the season, the coaching staff looks at this as a chance for the freshmen to embrace the opportunity to get out on the court and prove their worth.

    “”Once you get an opportunity to get there on the court, you have to make the most of it,”” Butts said. “”We anticipate that this experience is going to help them a great deal.””

    The two standouts so far have been guards Jhakia McDonald and Reiko Thomas. Both have seen substantial preseason game time, especially Thomas, who played nearly 39 minutes in the exhibition game against Oklahoma Panhandle State University. Guard Amani Butler also appeared in the OPSU game, scoring 4 points and getting 2 steals in just three minutes.

    Both Thomas and McDonald seem to be acclimating to the Arizona system, and both started in the OPSU game. McDonald brings her aggressiveness and defensive specialties to the team, while Thomas will be a factor on the offensive side of the ball with her explosive speed and control.

    McDonald and Thomas improved their point production in their second exhibition game and continue to contribute to the team in any way they can.

    “”I’m going to prove myself,”” Thomas said. “”Whatever I can do to help the team.””

    Thomas has shown some real potential and is already making an impression both offensively and defensively. She was 16-for-18 at the line and had 20 points overall, along with 4 steals against OPSU. Her role will continue to develop as the season continues, but Butts expects an expansion of the freshmen contribution.

    “”I’m looking for them all at some point to contribute something on the floor,”” Butts said. “”But no doubt Reiko in the early exhibition games has done that a little earlier than some of the others.””

    Butts will try to combine some of the veteran players with the new faces to get a balanced, productive team. The Wildcats will use the new players to expand the offense and create a stable, consistent team.

    “”With the help of coaches and teammates, I expect them to play,”” Butts said. “”That’s always the plan: to have the younger kids learn from the older kids and get an opportunity to mix it up a little bit.””

    Niya Butts is looking for a defensive-minded team that can produce points. This season will not just be a transition, but a hands-on learning experience for the five newcomers. The freshmen will no doubt have to be a part of Arizona’s rebuilding process. The emphasis at practices has been getting everyone familiarized and ready to go for the season.

    “”We’ve all been working toward that, and my goal is that they will be able to impact what we do because, quite honestly, they’re going to have to play,”” Butts said.

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