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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Hoops’ quiet season kickoff refreshing

Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Wildcat

The Wildcats beat the Western New Mexico Mustangs Tuesday night 96-55 at McKale Center.
Mike Christy
Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Wildcat The Wildcats beat the Western New Mexico Mustangs Tuesday night 96-55 at McKale Center.

In groups of two, three and four, the UA men’s basketball team trickled out of the Richard Jefferson Gymnasium on a dark and damp Friday evening, concluding the season’s first official practice.

“”Did it rain?”” someone asked.

It did.

The smell of rain in Tucson is almost as distinct as the smell of new Nikes or Jordans upon the start of a new basketball season. Now that the storm has passed, UA head coach Sean Miller has reached the calm yet crisp level expected by this point.

It’s only the second year of the Miller Era, more accurately, his first full season with all his components, but you could easily mistake it for a much longer tenured continuity.

While other programs around the country rocked glamorous season kickoffs — like Midnight Madness at Memphis that drew more than 18,000 fans — Arizona handled its first official practice behind closed doors.

“”I don’t think we have all the answers, and I don’t think we have all the talent in the world,”” Miller said on Friday. “”I think we’ll be more talented in the future, we’ll be more experienced in the future, but if you’re asking me to compare this now to the first day of last year, we’re in a better starting point.””

It’s a better starting point mentally: This time around Miller won’t need to stop drills to explain terminology. He expects this team to already know.

It’s a better starting point physically: Every player spent considerable time in the weight room this summer, and guys like Jamelle Horne and Kevin Parrom look noticeably bulked up.

It’s a better starting point in synergy: The bigger and stronger Wildcats contain the deepest core since Lute Olson’s last team.

“”I think we have 11 or 12 players who all think they’re going to play, and three of them are wrong,”” Miller said at media day last Tuesday. “”That’s a good thing, having that highly competitive environment and players saying, ‘I’m going to be ready to practice, because if I’m not, that’s going to hurt my opportunity to play in the game.'””

Arizona’s sense of urgency can finally morph into a new direction, one where the players try out for the coach, not the coach trying out for the players.

No one, two or three pieces are bigger than the system as a whole: No need for a Jerryd Bayless to score 30 points and carry an entire team, its bench and overall ticket sales on his back.

No need for a Jordan Hill’s foul trouble to worry whichever coach made substitutions.

No excuses with a lineup this versatile.

“”It’s way better and that’s what’s going to push us over in the game where opponents are playing against two teams that could potentially start,”” Horne said. “”You’ve got a team that could start coming off the bench. Those are the teams that make real runs and stay competitive through the entire season.

“”Last year we didn’t have those guys. Maybe we did they just weren’t ready,”” he added.

Not that questions don’t linger around this team, but they’re the good kind of questions, the ones you spend time chatting about in line outside McKale Center on game day, like mock lineups ideas.

None of which are too dire or burning.

Can Horne play consistently? Has Kyryl Natyazhko improved enough? Can Daniel Bejarano carve a significant role?

Is Derrick Williams prepared for double teams? Can Momo Jones handle being this team’s quarterback?

“”Attack is what we do,”” Horne said at media day last week. “”It’s on our socks, it’s on our shorts, it’s on the back of our shorts in workouts. It’s what we see before we go to sleep and that’s what coach Miller wants to see us on offense and defense.””

Twelve guys. Nine spots. Time to attack.

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