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Arizona basketball: Early games to help define competition at center, point guard

Kyryl Natyazhko celebrates after Arizona's win over Texas in the 2011 NCAA Tournament. Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.

It doesn’t have to be decided this week, or next month, but Arizona Wildcats coach Sean Miller is going to have to make some decisions at center and point guard.

Those are the positions that are most up in the air as the Cats approach their exhibition opener Thursday night against Seattle Pacific. Somebody has to be out there for the opening tip, although Miller said that might not mean much at this point.

Junior Kyryl Natyazhko and freshman Sidiki Johnson are competing at center, which is the team’s biggest question mark.

“We’re not at that point where one player is a clear-cut leader,” Miller said.

“Both will get heavy minutes at that position. I would like to think that between the two of them, they can grow at that position and make us successful. Who is going to start, who is going to play more, it’s too early to tell and it’s not clear cut.”

Freshman Angelo Chol might eventually be able to help out with some minutes at the 5, although Miller has Chol focusing on the power forward position for now, so that will be a developing situation.

“Angelo is dynamic blocking shots and he’s long and quick,” Miller said.

“But it’s tough for a freshman to play more than one position. It’s hard enough to get them acclimated to college basketball. You don’t want those guys out there just thinking and not being able to play hard.

“Especially with Angelo, we want to get him really good at the 4 position first and really make him feel as comfortable as we can. I can see during the course of the season where we could certainly contribute at that 5 late in game or as he develops.”

Miller, perhaps hoping that his true big men can fill 40 good minutes at center, did not indicate Tuesday that senior power forward Jesse Perry could slide into the center spot, although that could be an option down the road.

Natyazhko wasn’t an offensive threat last season — averaging 1.9 points per game — but he did provide valuable minutes in the final month of the season, setting better screens and being stronger on defense. Johnson, in the Red-Blue Game, showed some good low-post moves en route to scoring 18 points on 7 of 7 shooting.

“Sidiki has been aggressive. He was able to finish down there,” said junior forward Solomon Hill. “Kyryl is more of an outside guy.”

As for point guard, freshman Josiah Turner and sophomore Jordin Mayes will carve up the minutes, but how that split tilts is to be determined. Mayes can also play some shooting guard, which could become a factor if Arizona uses a three-guard lineup with starting 2-guard Kyle Fogg moving to the wing.

“I really believe in the next couple of weeks that will clear up,” Miller said of the point guard position.

Mayes, who underwent foot surgery in July, is still catching up on his conditioning, Miller said.

“When you miss 10, 12 weeks, it really puts you behind,” Miller said. “He is a month away from being in the best physical shape he can be in.”

Senior Brendon Lavender and freshman Nick Johnson could help at point guard if Turner or Mayes is injured or is in foul trouble.

While Miller sorts out the other two positions, Fogg, Hill and Perry are entrenched in the starting lineup.

“With their experience, how they’ve played, how they’ve worked since the first day of school, it’s very difficult to unseat those three guys,” Miller said.

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