The Arizona Wildcats, a year after winning the regular-season Pac-10 title, is picked to finish fourth in the Pac-12 by Lindy’s College Basketball Annual.
Consider it a close race, however.
Lindy’s ranks Cal No. 11 in the nation, Washington at No. 15, UCLA at No. 20 and Arizona at 22nd.
Although I wrote the Arizona team preview for Lindy’s — as well as a feature on coach Sean Miller — I didn’t have any input in the rankings. Those four teams are clearly the top tier of the conference, and the Sporting News sees that quartet in a different order:
Arizona, UCLA, Cal and Washington.
Sporting News ranks the Wildcats 12th.
Lindy’s selected Arizona junior forward Solomon Hill and senior guard Kyle Fogg each were selected as third-team All-Pac-12.
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For my feature on Miller, I talked to former Wildcat Corey Williams, who is also the TV analyst for Fox Sports Arizona.
“When I walked into one of his early practices, it took me back to Coach (Lute) Olson,” Williams said.
“Shoes were squeaking, the bodies were flying and he was getting in the players’ faces, telling them the truth. That was so refreshing. So many coaches today cater to their players and baby them. Sean does not do that in the least bit.”
Miller admits that landing Derrick Williams soon after he arrived was like sitting down at the card table and being dealt blackjack on the first hand. Williams, MoMo Jones and Solomon Hill all jumped ship from USC when coach Tim Floyd resigned amid turmoil that would land the program in NCAA jail.
Williams, instead of staying on with new coach Kevin O’Neill at USC, joined Miller at Arizona and developed into the second overall pick in the NBA Draft this year.
Corey Williams says there is more than just good fortune at work for Miller, who brought out the best in his young post player.
“First of all, Derrick Williams isn’t Derrick Williams if he is playing for any other coach. Bottom line,” Williams said. “If he had stayed at USC under Kevin O’Neill, he’d still be at USC and probably not on the national radar.”
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The Arizona Republic’s Doug Haller recently interviewed Miller. Here are a few excerpts from the Q&A (you can read plenty more at azcentral.com):
Where would you like to see defensive improvement?
“Really across the board, but I think if you look at our two-point field goal percentage defense, shots in the paint, shots close to the basket, we weren’t very good. Not too many times do you have the record that we had last season when you’re as easy to score on close to the basket as we were. There were a lot of different factors with that. I think as great as Derrick was on offense, one of the things we want to do better is be a better defensive team around the basket. That’s not just the big guys, that’s our the whole team, but improving that is one of our keys.”
How much can freshmen big men Sidiki Johnson and Angelo Chol help in that regard?
“Sidiki and Angelo are different players. Sidiki weighs almost 250 pounds and his body fat is about the same as Derrick Williams. So physically, although Sidiki is a freshman, you look at how big and strong he is … he’s really worked hard. He deserves a lot of credit for that because it’s what he eats, it’s how he treats his body, it’s how hard he works in the weight room. He’s a big kid. I think physically around the basket, on both offense and defense, he gives us much needed physicality. From Angelo’s perspective, because of his reputation as a shot blocker, that’s what people think of when they think about Angelo as a player and deservedly so, but Angelo is a face-up player on offense and he’s much more skilled than I think people realize. He weighs 215 pounds. They’re two players that are much different from each other, but we’re really counting on both those guys to help our depth.”
After MoMo Jones left the program, a lot of attention fell on freshman point guard Josiah Turner. What do you like about him?
“The characteristic that we love about Josiah is he’s a pass-first point guard and he makes his teammates better. And he’s not a small guy. He’s 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, and to me physically, he’s got size that not a lot of freshman have. He’s really working hard on his shot right now. His attitude has been terrific. We’re really counting on him.”
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Grant Jerrett, a power forward from Lutheran High School in La Verne, Calif., is part of Arizona’s recruiting class that is ranked No. 1 nationally by ESPNU. (UCLA is No. 2 after the commitment Monday of small forward Kyle Anderson).
Jerrett recently competed in the Fullcourt Press Fall Hoops Classic in Harbor City, Calif., and ESPN.com Joel Francisco selected Jerrett as one of the event’s standout players. Francisco wrote:
Jerrett was scintillating throughout the event, especially his dominating all-around performance against nationally-acclaimed Bishop Gorman. He was as assertive as we had ever seen him and he played with a confidence that should put fear into future opponents. His advanced footwork, length and overall savvy in the post are as potent as any prospect in the country. If his performance at this event becomes more of the norm (which we believe it will), he will definitely be in the discussion for No. 1 prospect out west.