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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Hoops’ season outlook improving

    Great teams aren’t built overnight. But Sean Miller’s recruiting class of 2009 felt pretty close to Extreme Makeover: Drive-thru Edition.

    Within about a two-week span, the newly-hired UA head coach not only filled a vacant incoming freshman class, but the new guys shouldn’t be half-bad.

    The daunting transition from high school to college basketball varies in terms of the toll it takes on each player, and ex-UA interim head coach Russ Pennell saw the process work both ways last season. While many anticipated Brendon Lavender to make a sudden impact as a four-star recruit, really it was Kyle Fogg – the unknown late signee – who stepped up in the back court.

    Fogg, often described as a “”coach’s dream”” with his high basketball intelligence and low-maintenance attitude, became a crucial player in Arizona’s run to the Sweet 16.

    On the other hand, Lavender couldn’t crack the very limited starting rotation. I asked Pennell many times throughout the season what was going on with Lavender, but Pennell just used the “”transition”” card.

    This leaves Arizona with wide-open expectations for yet another upcoming season: Assuming that UA point guard Nic Wise comes back for his senior season – essentially becoming the Big Man on Campus – the rest of the Wildcats are in for a preseason competition for playing time.

    Although more recruits could join the team, here’s an early outlook at what fans could potentially see in McKale Center next season in the regular rotation:

    Starters:

    Senior, Nic Wise (point guard):

    Undoubtedly he becomes the leader and face of this team. Wise’s idea to test the NBA Draft waters shouldn’t be too alarming to fans. Wise is a competitor who should thrive off the strenuous summer workouts. Chase Budinger said testing the waters last season helped him become a more rounded player. Let’s just hope the glamor of a lucrative NBA career doesn’t overpower Wise’s senior season.

    Sophomore, Kyle Fogg (shooting guard):

    Arguably the team’s best defensive player, Fogg forced the key turnovers and hit all the clutch shots when it mattered most – essentially immune to the pressure and big-game stage that he experienced as a freshman. There’s no reason to believe Fogg has peaked as a player, assuming that Miller continues developing the kid who was described as a late bloomer before coming to Tucson.

    Junior, Zane Johnson (wing):

    Often overlooked in the shadow of the Big Three, Johnson made significant improvements throughout the 2008-09 season, proving himself as a starter down the stretch of Pacific 10 Conference play. As the team’s best shooter, Johnson also improved on the defensive end – which in turn sparked Arizona’s offense. If Johnson can continue progressing on his 3-point shot, that’s the progression that could potentially get Arizona to its 27th-consecutive NCAA Tournament.

    Junior, Jamelle Horne (wing):

    I picked Horne as Arizona’s X-Factor in both his freshman and sophomore seasons. Next year won’t be any different. After arguably the best game of Horne’s career in Arizona’s second-round NCAA Tournament win over Cleveland State, UA forward Fendi Onobun told me the team calls Horne the “”Wild Card”” because they never know what they’re getting from the ridiculously athletic wing. Once again, Horne must establish a full-time role next season, since there will be plenty of newcomers that will be splitting time off the bench.

    Freshman, Kyryl Natyazhko (center):

    His appearance is a lot like what the Wildcats wanted in Jeff Withey – a true center who would allow Jordan Hill to play his natural position at power forward. Obviously that didn’t happen, but Natyazhko should still get the start over redshirt sophomore Alex Jacobson.

    Off the bench:

    Freshman, Solomon Hill (sixth man):

    Pending the aforementioned transition, Hill should enter Tucson as the Wildcats’ highest-touted recruit. He brings versatility to the back court, having been described as a guy who can play point guard, shooting guard and small forward. Hill’s role certainly hinges on Wise’s decision and Miller’s needs in the back court.

    Redshirt sophomore, Alex Jacobson (center):

    Fans tend to want to rush the development of big men just because of their size. In reality, Jacobson was no different from any other freshman last season with his maturation process and transition. As a redshirt sophomore next year, Jacobson’s role certainly needs to increase with the departure of Jordan Hill. If not, Miller may need to rely heavily on his back court, like Villanova did a few years ago with its starting lineup that featured four guards.

    Sophomore, Garland Judkins (guard):

    He’s an explosive playmaker with an up-tempo style similar to Wise’s. With one of the most athletic builds on the team, and the highest vertical leap on last year’s team, Judkins has the opportunity to define himself as a viable sixth man off the bench as everybody expected last season. But after serving three suspensions that ultimately became indefinite down the stretch, Judkins will need to stay out of trouble in order for any of his potential to reach the court.

    Sophomore, Brendon Lavender (guard):

    Had a difficult transition from high school to college, but made strides toward the end of the season on the defensive end. Fans still haven’t seen Lavender’s best skill: his shot. Miller needs to develop Lavender to become a regular reserve in the rotation, giving the Wildcats depth they didn’t have last season.

    Bryan Roy is a journalism sophomore. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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