TUCSON, Ariz. – The first impression of Arizona basketball after a 108-67 exhibition win over Humboldt State in McKale Center was: Practices must be unbelievably competitive.
The second thing is: Arizona’s student section (Zona Zoo) is going to say “Zeus” a lot. That’s in honor of freshman center Kaleb Tarczewski, who is as physically impressive as any big man UA has had here in the last 25 years.
In the win, “Zeus” had 18 points and 10 rebounds, 13 points coming in the second half. Yet, the most impressive attributes about Tarczewski is his “attitude and who he is as a person,” UA coach Sean Miller said. “He’s unselfish and a willing learner. And he has a mean streak to him, which is a good thing. It allows him to be physical … a lot of great things are going to happen (with him).”
Miller said “guys like him are difference makers.”
Miller knew exactly what he was getting – a player.
“He’s a willing and hungry person to get better,” Miller said. “He’s on a quest to do better.”
There’s some thought that he may be better than anyone thought he was.
Miller said to keep this in mind: “Tarczewski weighed just 228 pounds and is now closer to 260 pounds. “He’s starting to get used to being heavier and getting stronger,” Miller said.
That will bring a smile to Miller’s face, as will Arizona’s overall depth. It’s unlike anything UA has had in more than a decade.
“It’s going to be fun to coach them,” Miller said.
For the seniors – Solomon Hill, Mark Lyons, and Kevin Parrom – it’ll be a season of helping guide the young guys. For the freshman and sophomores, it’ll be a season of being guided and improvement.
There’s so much to like. UA had five players in double figures scoring in the win.
“If you go to practice not prepared or not ready, you’ll lose your spot,” said Lyons, a transfer from Xavier. “Coach doesn’t play any favoritism. Every practice everyone has to bring it regardless if you are a freshman or a senior.”
In four or five months, as its young players mature, Arizona is going to be hard to beat — which means the ceiling for this year’s Wildcats is way up there. While Humboldt State is not a team to gauge a team’s future on, Arizona’s depth, size and versatility is very apparent.
It’s a far cry from last season.
“We’re so much bigger and our size comes with depth,” said Miller. “One of the challenges is to utilize that size to our advantage all the time.”
Miller said the biggest lesson from Wednesday was the need to play better defense on the perimeter — Humboldt hit 9 of 19 3-point attempts.
Arizona had defensive rotation problems and responsibility.
“It’s something we will work on and something I’m confident we will get better at as we continue to practice and play more games,” Miller said.
The same could be said for Tarczewski and freshman sidekick Grant Jerrett.
“I thought tonight was actually more of who (Tarczewski) is as opposed to the Red-Blue game, he was more of in a hurry and was nervous,” Miller said. “Whether he made the shots or not if he gets the ball around the basket he can score.
“Kaleb is determined and he works really hard,” Miller said. “He’s hard on himself, and sometimes that could be a good thing. Sometimes he wants to do well, but sometimes that can take away your own confidence.”
Tarczewski wasn’t made available after the win.
UA sophomore Nick Johnson said he teased his teammate a bit before the game because he was nervous in the Red-Blue game. It’s about playing basketball, Johnson told him. Just go do it.
“We know he can score in the post with the best of them,” Johnson said. “He’s a big body. He had a big game.”
Big – and plentiful – looks to be the operative word for Arizona this season.