When Arizona basketball coach Sean Miller spoke critically of senior-to-be Jamelle Horne last month, it seemed like a move designed to publically prod the enigmatic forward toward a better performance.
Maybe it worked.
Miller met with the media Tuesday afternoon — sort of a spring update on the program — and said this about Horne, who has been a starter for most of the past two seasons but with wild fluctuations in terms of effort and production:
“Jamelle has done everything we have asked him to do,” Miller said.
“He’s had a really good second semester academically. He played this year below 210 pounds. I don’t think that’s physical enough or big enough for what he wants to do and what we need him to do. Right away, he’s really jumped up in that area.”
Miller said Horne, having worked hard in the weight room, is at about 220 pounds.
“If you look at him, you notice the difference,” Miller said.
What everyone wants to see is a difference in attitude, too.
Last month, Miller said this about Horne:
“He has to do a better job of being a teammate. A better job of being about one thing only — winning. A better job of having a positive body language, regardless of whether things are going well for him.”
The best thing Miller can do is keep the pressure on Horne. The coach can very clearly do that this season because he has more options. Arizona has depth. As coaches say, the prospect of sitting on the bench is a great motivator.
The Wildcats didn’t bring in junior college forward Jesse Perry to just sit on the bench.
Perry plays the same spots Horne does. Each is 6-foot-7. Each can play the small or power forward positions. It’s a little early to figure out lineup permutations, but Miller said they could play on the floor at the same time, but, more likely, Perry is directly coming after Horne’s playing time.
How will Horne respond?
“Like a lot of players, when does that light bulb go on?” Miller said.
“Sometimes it’s early. Sometimes it’s late. I do know this: A senior cares more about things than any other player on your team. It’s the last time. I think Jamelle is anxious to have a final year that we can all point to as being his best at Arizona.”
Each player in Arizona’s three-man recruiting class has a chance to be in the playing rotation next season. Freshman Jordin Mayes can play both guard spots and will back up MoMo Jones at point guard. Freshman Daniel Bejarano can play both wing spots and provide 3-point shooting (as can Mayes).
As for Perry …
“He really puts the ball on the floor. Versatile in his approach. He has a toughness about him. He is older. He can help us at a forward position right away. Not only does he have some toughness to him and age to him, but, like the other two (recruits), he is a very capable shooter,” Miller said.
“He rebounds the ball, gets to the foul line. Even though he’s not a 6-10 frontcourt player, he plays bigger than his height and gives us a much-needed player there.”
If Perry pushes Horne to be better, and Horne pushes Perry to be ready to make an impact right away, then Arizona is much better off. It’s that kind of competition throughout the roster that will drive practice and fuel better performances.
“To me, we have 10 or 11 players who are going to expect to play,” Miller said. “Not everyone is going win that race.”