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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: What will the newest class of Point Guard U bring to Arizona?

2013-2015
Rebecca Noble

2013-2015

The Arizona men’s basketball program held down the title of Point Guard U from the late 1980s through the mid 2000s. Sure, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office didn’t officially approve a trademark, but anyone who watched Lute Olson’s Wildcats knew that Tucson was the destination for point guards.

Steve Kerr started the trend; Damon Stoudamire, Mike Bibby and a host of others continued the tradition, and Jason Gardner and Salim Stoudamire further cemented Arizona’s status as PGU in the 21st century.

Former Arizona point guards soon flooded the NBA and excelled on the professional level. The PGU brand only grew and a wave of high schoolers took notice of the factory Olson had created.

Who, in the early 2000s, didn’t dream of wearing high socks à la Jason Terry or rocking the “0,” like Agent Zero himself, Gilbert Arenas?

Olson no longer needed to sell Arizona to elite prep point guards. The school sold itself.

Then, in the fall of 2007, Olson temporarily stepped down as the Wildcats’ head coach due to a myriad of health and personal issues. In October of 2008, Olson officially retired.

It’s no coincidence that a lull period struck PGU at this time.

Jerryd Bayless and then Nic Wise held the rock under interim coaches Kevin O’Neil and Russ Pennell. Bayless, of course, would go on to play in the NBA, while Wise was a bit undersized to reach the professional stage.

Current head coach Sean Miller still had one more year to work with Wise when he was hired as head coach in the spring of 2009, before implementing his own recruits.

It seemed only a matter of time before Miller, a former standout point guard at Pittsburgh, discovered PGU’s next flag-bearer.

First came a couple near-hits—see Lamont “MoMo” Jones and Mark Lyons—and sure-miss Josiah Turner. It was during the middle of this transition period, April of 2012 to be exact, that Miller found the right guy.

Few ever imagined T.J. McConnell would turn into the modern face of PGU when he first announced his decision to transfer from Duquesne to Arizona.

The 6-foot-2 Pittsburgh native didn’t bring any fancy bag of tricks to Tucson. He certainly didn’t have the flashiness of some of the great Arizona point guards of the past, but McConnell personified just about everything his new coach looked for in a leader. Namely, a tireless work ethic and a willingness to put teammates’ success ahead of his own.

The result: a prolific two-year stint at Arizona that culminated in a pair of Elite Eight trips.

“He was as consistent of a player that I’ve ever coached—day-in, day-out,” Miller said last week. “Not until somebody like that is gone do you understand all of the qualities that he had.”

Miller’s comments came days after McConnell played in his first NBA game as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers, a reality that is still sinking in for anyone who watched McConnell develop since arriving in Tucson.

McConnell’s ladder of success should provide an extra dose of motivation for Arizona’s current group of point guards: Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Kadeem Allen and Justin Simon.

And for those who ask, “When was the last time PGU produced an NBA-caliber point guard?” All one has to do is point to No. 12 on the 76ers’ roster.


Follow Ezra Amacher on Twitter.


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