Arizona working silently to improve outside shooting

TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona’s three most accurate 3-point shooters from a season ago are now gone: Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom and Grant Jerrett.

Junior guard Nick Johnson, who made 42 of 107 3-pointers (39.3 percent), returns, but beyond that, the Wildcats have little proven outside firepower. Sure, there are a plethora of talented young players with YouTube videos highlighting their various skills. But those videos are generally reserved for high-flying dunks and out-of-the-ordinary plays, not jump shots.

As Arizona prepares for a season of huge expectations, it’s anyone’s guess as to what it has in its arsenal as far as perimeter shooting. But Arizona coach Sean Miller realizes that to meet those huge expectations, shooting has to be a point of emphasis. And it has been during summer workouts — the second year the NCAA has allowed coaches to work with their teams in the summer.

“It’s something we’ve improved silently over the summer,” Miller said. “I’m thankful we’ve been able to work with our players in that area.”

Miller said it’s been such a priority that he’s sacrificed skill development time to concentrate on shooting in the two to three times a week he has worked with his players.

“Shooting is one of the things we need to work on and continue to work on,” Miller said Tuesday. “I will tell you that I don’t think there is a college basketball program that has shot more basketballs than we have this summer.

“We’ve put all eggs in that basket to gain shots and gain reps to develop and teach. I believe we have improved as much as you can improve over a summer.”

Arizona shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range last season and lacked a consistent outside scorer. More often than not, when it needed a basket at crunch time, it was senior guard Mark Lyons trying to create one on a drive to the bucket.

Miller said Johnson has improved on the perimeter so much he’s capable of being an All-Pac-12 performer.

Miller said that Kansas transfer Zach Peters, a 6-foot-10 center, has a nice touch, but it’s not certain if he’ll be cleared to play this season after concussion problems at Kansas and transfer rules. Miller said he’s bringing Peters along slowly.

“But he’s part of the solution,” Miller said, also mentioning guards T.J. McConnell, Jordin Mayes, Gabe York and Elliott Pitts as potential outside threats.

Miller added forward Brandon Ashley, who took only three 3-pointers last year, to the mix, saying “he’s done a ton of work on that part of his game.”
While shooting was a favorite topic of Miller during Tuesday’s gathering with the media, there was no avoiding discussion of incoming freshman Aaron Gordon.

Gordon spent his summer earning Most Valuable Player honors on Team USA’s gold-medal winning U19 team and creating immense expectations in Tucson.

“But what you tend to forget is that he’s so young,” said Miller, reminding all that Gordon just turned 18. “When you have these types of expectations, many times the focus becomes what you have to do to become even better.”

For Gordon, part of that equation could be becoming better on the perimeter.

Miller said Gordon’s coaches raved about his unselfishness and team-oriented play.

“He’s really a hungry and willing learner,” Miller said. “He wants to get better at all those things he needs to. It’s great to see the attitude, and at the same time know that he’s so talented.”

Bonus shot

Miller announced on Tuesday that he’s added former Arizona player Joseph Blair and David Miller to his staff.

Blair, a popular figure in Tucson who played for Arizona from 1993 to 1996 and is president of Blair Charity Group, will be an undergraduate assistant coach while he finishes his degree. Miller said Blair would work with the team’s big men during practice and travel with the team.

“He’ll be part of our everyday experience in practice,” Miller said. “He’s an invaluable resource for our players. He had great success here as a player. With our frontcourt players, there’s nothing like having someone as big and physical to go against as JB is.”

David Miller, who has been with the team for four years, has been elevated to graduate manager.
“Some of the best coaches aren’t former players but former managers,” Miller said. “David is one of those.”  

David Miller is the son of Dave Miller, who had a 20-year coaching career and is now an analyst for the Los Angeles Lakers game broadcasts.