Wildcats impressive at annual scrimmage

Arizona spent a few minutes before its Red-Blue game to honor

its 1988 Final Four team, one of the most popular and successful

teams not just at the university, but in Tucson history.

This year’s Wildcats a long way to go to reach those lofty

heights, but it appears they’re going to be pretty good, too.

Playing in front of home fans for the first time, Arizona

flashed its athleticism and versatility during its annual scrimmage

on Sunday, giving the sold-out crowd at McKale Center a glimpse of

why expectations are back up in the desert.

”There’s a lot to like,” said Harvey Mason Jr., a member of

the 1988 team who went on to become a six-time Grammy-winning

songwriter and producer. ”They’re big, athletic, can get up and

down the floor, have a good mix of players. It should be an

exciting year.”

Arizona had, by its own lofty standards, a down year in 2011-12

after just missing the Final Four the season before.

The Wildcats won 23 games, but didn’t make the NCAA tournament

and had the added insult of losing to Bucknell in the opening round

of the NIT at home.

Arizona is expected to rebound this season behind another

stellar recruiting class by coach Sean Miller and a group of proven

veteran players.

The McKale Center was filled long before the opening tip in

anticipation of the team’s first scrimmage and to see a bit of the

glorious past with most of the 1988 team returning to be

honored.

With scouts from four NBA teams in the stands watching, the

Wildcats overcome some jittery opening moments to put on an

impressive show, flying in for dunks, dropping in 3-pointers and

whipping no-look passes.

Returning players Nick Johnson and Kevin Parrom led Arizona in

scoring, with 20 and 17 points respectively, but there were some

impressive performances from the newcomers as well.

The Wildcats still have three weeks before their opener against

Charleston Southern at home on Nov. 11, but the initial glimpse

looked good.

”I thought our guys did a good job,” Miller said. ”As one

team scores, you look at the defense. As one team doesn’t score,

you look at the offense. You can always put the critical eye on

your team, but the one good thing about today is that they had the

opportunity to be around 14,500 people, that you had three Pac-12

officials. Anytime you can get your team out there, I think it gets

us off to a better start.”

Miller’s previous recruiting class, also among the best in the

nation, didn’t hold together.

Forward Sidiki Johnson left the team a month into the season and

point guard Josiah Turner, who was suspended twice, was gone after

it was over.

The Wildcats still had Johnson, a supremely-athletic guard, and

high-motor forward Angelo Chol, with plenty of veterans coming

back.

Heady senior Solomon Hill was all-Pac-12 last season and will be

able to switch back to his natural position of small forward

because of Arizona’s depth. Parrom, a do-everything forward, is

healthy again, expected to be a big contributor after his junior

season was derailed by the death of his mother and grandmother,

along with a shooting in New York that left him with hand a knee

injuries.

Point guard Jordin Mayes also is healthy after a nagging foot

injury hampered him for most of last season.

Added to that core will be an impressive group of newcomers that

includes guard Mark Lyons, a graduate transfer from Xavier, where

helped lead the Musketeers to the regional semifinals of the NCAA

tournament. The senior was the best player on the court at times

during the scrimmage, showing off his quickness and ability to get

to the rim while avoiding the caught-in-the-spotlight jitters some

of his teammates had in the early going.

”This wasn’t his first big game,” Miller said.

Miller’s latest recruiting class is expected to help turn what

was a weakness last season into a strength this year.

Kaleb Tarczewski, a 7-foot center, 6-10 forward Grant Jerrett

and 6-8 forward Brandon Ashley are among the top incoming big men

in the country and should give Arizona plenty of depth, not to

mention versatility.

Jerrett has been one of Arizona’s best players in practice and

was impressive during the scrimmage, knocking down a 3-pointer and

showing some impressive moves inside.

Tarczewski had a rough first half, missing all five of his

shots, but settled down in the second to score 10 points.

Another freshman, 6-2 guard Gabe York, has athletic ability that

matches Johnson, evidenced by the two dunks he used to win the

team’s dunk contest before the scrimmage: a windmill over a student

manager and another dunk over both Chol and 6-10 Matt Korcheck.

The mix and potential of this year’s team was a big reason

McKale Center was sold out for the Red-Blue game for the second

straight year and had members of the `88 team among those expecting

big things.

”I see the guys have a lot of athletic ability,” said Kenny

Lofton, a member of the 1988 team who was a six-time All-Star in 17

major league seasons. ”If they can just jell and play together,

it’s going to be something special for them.”