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The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona MBB Senior Day: Arizona’s five seniors

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Emma Diaz
University of Arizona men’s basketball plays against Oregon on senior day on March 2 in McKale Center. Pictured is the starting lineup of the five graduating seniors.

The No. 6 Arizona men’s basketball team recognized all five of its seniors, Oumar Ballo, Pelle Larsson, Keshad Johnson, Caleb Love and Grant Weitman, prior to the start of its game against the University of Oregon on Saturday, March 2, at noon. Each senior had taken a different journey to reach their final home game in McKale Center.

Ballo and Larsson arrived at Arizona as sophomores before the 2021-2022 season. Both began their Wildcat careers as key playmakers off the bench and transitioned into key players in the Arizona starting lineup. Meanwhile, Johnson and Love arrived before the 2023-2024 season. Both veterans arrived with a wave of experience from their previous teams and played a massive role in the Wildcats’ success this season. Weitman had been with the Wildcats as a walk-on for all four seasons. He was a local Tucson native, and his impact went beyond the court.

Oumar Ballo:

Ballo, a native of Koulikoro, Mali, began his collegiate journey at Gonzaga University. He played in 24 games as a redshirt freshman, averaging 2.5 points and 1.5 rebounds. Gonzaga reached the National Championship game with a perfect 31-0 record before falling short against Baylor University. Ballo then transferred to Arizona for the 2021-2022 season to play under his former Gonzaga coach, Tommy Lloyd, who had become the new head coach of the Wildcats.

In his debut season with the Wildcats, Ballo played in all 37 games, averaging just over 15 minutes per game. He was edged out by his teammate Larsson for the Pac-12 Sixth Man of the Year after averaging 6.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game.

“When I left Gonzaga, I didn’t know much about basketball, but when I came here, I see the fans, I see how the city was behind us, you know it took my basketball to another level,” Ballo said when looking back on his Arizona career. “I’m grateful for this city and for Arizona basketball.”

In his redshirt junior season, Ballo made huge strides in his game and was awarded First Team All Pac-12 and Pac-12 Most Improved Player of the Year, as well as the Maui Invitational Most Outstanding Player. Ballo’s scoring and rebounding averages doubled, with him averaging 14.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game and shooting 64.7% from the field.

“Our run in Maui that weekend was something that will stick [with me] because it was such a great environment,” Ballo said. “To play against one of the best teams in the nation [San Diego State], and also winning the [Maui Invitational] Championship, that was something that will be with me for a long time.”

Ballo has continued to light up the court throughout his senior season. The Arizona big man has posted 14 double-doubles on the season, including eight straight, entering Senior Day against Oregon on Saturday, March 2. Ballo will surpass Al Fleming’s school record of 10 consecutive double-doubles, set nearly 50 years ago, with a double-double in each of the final three games.

Pelle Larsson:

Larsson, hailing from Nacka, Sweden, began his college basketball career at the University of Utah. As a freshman, he appeared in 25 games, starting in 18 of them, averaging 8.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. Following his freshman season, Larsson transferred to Arizona to play under Lloyd, earning Pac-12 Sixth Man of the Year after averaging 7.2 points and 3.4 rebounds per game in his sophomore season.

“[Lloyd] is an honest guy,” Larsson said. “He had the right kind of way of thinking about [basketball] and all the guys that were here were already bought into [his plan].”

In his junior year, Larsson made significant progress in all areas of his game by setting new career highs in scoring and efficiency. He averaged 9.9 points and 4.3 rebounds while shooting 47.2% from the field. Larsson’s playmaking ability also shone through with a team-leading 114 assists and a stellar 1.75 assist-to-turnover ratio.

“Arizona and the guys have taken my love for basketball to a whole new level,” Larsson said. “I’m forever grateful and forever in debt for this place.”

As a senior, Larsson has continued to be one of the key playmakers for the Wildcats. Toppling his previous career highs in scoring, efficiency and several other categories, Larsson is averaging 13 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists while shooting 53.9% from the field.

Keshad Johnson:

Johnson, originally from Oakland, California, spent his first four years at San Diego State University before arriving at Arizona as a graduate transfer before the 2023-2024 season.

“Spending four years in San Diego, you know that’s my second home, but here, being part of the Wildcat family, we know it’s gonna be an even crazier environment,” Johnson said. “The way that Bear Down Nation put on for everybody and the love that we got [here] in Tucson is going to be crazy, so I can’t wait to feel that.”

Johnson proved his consistency and durability over four seasons at San Diego State, appearing in 113 games with 71 consecutive starts. Throughout his college career, he averaged 5.8 points and four rebounds per game, with a shooting percentage of 51.5%. Johnson showcased steady improvement throughout his college career, averaging over 7 points per game during his final two seasons, including 7.7 points and five rebounds during his senior year. Johnson played a crucial role in leading the Aztecs to the national championship game against the University of Connecticut during his senior year, where he scored a team-high 14 points and four rebounds.

In May 2023, Johnson became the first person in his family to graduate from college, earning a degree in interdisciplinary studies with a focus on communications, sociology and recreational management after graduating from San Diego State University.

Johnson arrived in Arizona as a graduate transfer before the 2023-2024 season. With the Wildcats, Johnson is averaging career highs in scoring, rebounding and assists, with 11.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game. In 20 of Arizona’s 28 games, Johnson has reached double figures in scoring, including a career-high 24 points against Purdue University on Dec. 16.

Johnson said his favorite Arizona memory was from the pre-conference matchup against Michigan State University.

“We were still fresh as a group, but I feel like that solidified our brotherhood, you know, coming out with that win,” Johnson said.

Caleb Love:

Love, a native of St. Louis, Missouri, spent the first three years of his college basketball career at the University of North Carolina before transferring to Arizona.

Appearing in 101 games with the Tar Heels, Love excelled over three seasons at North Carolina, scoring 1,476 points and dishing out 338 assists. Love reached double figures in scoring in 79 of the 101 games he appeared in with the Tar Heels.

“I’m so grateful for [North Carolina], ” Love said. “I just want to thank them because, without them, this wouldn’t be a thing.”

At North Carolina, Love averaged 17.6 points, three rebounds and 2.4 assists in tournament games. His standout performances were pivotal in North Carolina’s journey to the National Championship game in 2022. Love scored 30 points against UCLA in the Sweet 16 and 28 points, with 22 in the second half, against Duke University in the national semifinal game. During his junior season, Love averaged a career-high 16.7 points per game, ranking him fifth in the ACC.

After spending three years with the Tar Heels, Love transferred to Arizona to play under Lloyd.

“The culture here is second to none,” Love said. “[It’s] what Coach Lloyd has done with this team as far as building us and bringing us together, working on our culture each and every day.”

Love is currently leading the Wildcats in scoring, averaging a career-high 19.6 points per game, making him the second-highest scorer in the Pac-12. He has reached double figures in all but one game this season and has scored 20 or more points 13 times. During conference play, Love has stepped up his play, averaging 21.1 points and five rebounds per game.

“We got a great camaraderie about us and this team is special,” Love said. “Coach always said we’re built more right now and we’re going to continue [to get better].”

Grant Weitman:

“You see the fans from a different angle when you’re on the team,” Weitman said. “You know how much they love the city and how much they love the team, and obviously, it’s a nice thing here [having] your closest friends on the team.”

A Tucson native, Weitman joined the Wildcats as a walk-on his freshman year.

“It means a lot, obviously being from Tucson, you know it’s a dream of mine to come here and be able [to play basketball],” Weitman said, reflecting on his Arizona career. “It’s crazy it is coming to an end. Time flew by really fast, but I loved every minute being here.”

Although he saw limited playing time throughout his Arizona career, Weitman appeared in 41 games, scoring 11 points and hauling 13 rebounds. While his role on the court was limited, Weitman’s impact extends beyond the court. He highlighted his role as being there to support his teammates off the court, including scouting, offering off-court support and assisting in practices. Weitman acknowledged his limited playing time but emphasized his commitment to contributing in any way possible to the team’s success.

“[My main role], I’d say, is to help the guys out, you know, scout, be there for them off of the court, support them,” Weitman said. “I’m not gonna play in games and stuff like that, so I can do anything off the court and in practice to help the guys.”


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