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
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
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
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
”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
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
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
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
”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.”