Freshman forward Craig Victor leaves Arizona’s program
TUCSON, Ariz. — Six days into the new year, coach Sean Miller says seventh-ranked Arizona feels good about itself and its chemistry.
How it feels tomorrow and beyond, well, one never knows until you get there. Chemistry is a fluid situation.
Just hours after Miller’s assessment, Arizona announced that freshman forward Craig Victor has decided to transfer.
"We wish Craig Victor and his family well," Miller said in a statement.
See how fluid it is?
"I’ll judge our chemistry on January 4th when we played Arizona State and I’ll do it all over again the next day," Miller said in his weekly gathering with the media on Tuesday. "It only takes one day and you could go from what you think is a tight-knit group that will go on a vacation together to disarray.
"There are so many people tugging and pulling and so much selfishness at the core of college basketball that you don’t have chemistry for long periods of time. You have to work at it."
Miller made no mention of Victor’s status in his Tuesday afternoon session.
Victor, from New Orleans, averaged 7.4 minutes per game and played five minutes in Sunday night’s victory over Arizona State. He averaged 3.1 points and 1.1 rebounds a game. He arrived at Arizona as a four-star recruit out of Findlay Prep in Las Vegas, rated as the nation’s No. 8 power forward by Scout.com.
As recently as last month, Victor expressed confidence in his ability to contribute but admitted there was an adjustment from high school to college. "(It’s) definitely not the size, but the speed of the game," he said.
He was stuck behind Brandon Ashley and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson at the forward position and was either the ninth or 10th player in the playing rotation.
Hollis-Jefferson said after Sunday’s win over ASU that chemistry is "100 percent" better than when the season started two months ago.
"Guys like Brandon, Kaleb (Tarczewski) and T.J. (McConnell) are doing a tremendous job of bringing us together and (making) sure we’re close and like a family," Hollis-Jefferson said. "It’s nice when we go bowling or we try to go to the movies or dinner or something. It’s those guys who do it so credit to them. It’s just things that happen outside of basketball that make us a better and closer team on the court."
Miller agreed with Hollis-Jefferson on the team’s chemistry but "how it will be tomorrow, I don’t know. We will judge it by tomorrow.
"It’s a constant work in progress," Miller added.
Miller’s immediate task is to prepare the Wildcats for a road trip to take on Oregon on Thursday and Oregon State on Sunday (FOX Sports 1).
Two seasons ago the Wildcats were 14-0 when they lost to Oregon on the road, starting a stretch of four losses in 10 games before they turned things around for a late-season run to the Sweet 16.
Last year, Arizona seemingly had great chemistry with Nick Johnson being the Pied Piper of happiness/togetherness for a team that set a school record with a 21-game-winning streak. But Miller also spoke last year of how fluid chemistry can be.
"Last year’s chemistry was the same where we had to work at it every day," Miller said. "Looking back, once the season ended it became one of our strengths."
Miller said Ashley’s season-ending foot injury had a galvanizing effect on last year’s team, helping it realize how quickly things can change. Of course, Miller doesn’t want any injuries this year.
"We’re a work in progress still, (but) I do think we’re closer now than when the season began," he said. "But by all accounts we should be. We’ve been together a lot more."
One would assume in a couple more months — when things begin to heat up — that the chemistry will improve. But Miller is also aware the players are playing for something more than the team — their futures. Miller has never shied away from talking about the next level and acknowleding the players "having a lot at stake."
But he also says winning helps foster a sense of working together for a common cause, referencing a recent Sports Illustrated article on former Arizona player Solomon Hill, now a starter for the Indianapolis Pacers.
"One thing I learned from (Miller) is team success drives individual success," Hill was quoted as saying in the story. "You can get everything you want if you’re on a winning team. That’s how I play basketball; I don’t have to be the guy you see all the time."
Miller said the story came at a great time.
"Being on a team that has won 30 games, we’ve had two players that have been drafted in the top four," Miller said, referring to Derrick Williams (2011) and Aaron Gordon (2014). "Would have either of those guys been in the top four if we would have exited in round one (of the NCAA tournament? There’s a chance that could be, ‘no.’ ”
Point is: Team success helps individual success. And Arizona will continue to work on that every day. It has no other choice if it wants to get better.
VIDEO: Sports Guys Anthony Gimino, Steve Rivera, Matt Moreno and Jake Fischer take stock of Arizona after Sunday’s victory over ASU.