Gabe York’s time might be coming.
Arizona Wildcats coach Sean Miller isn’t going to commit to anything but said it is a “possibility” his freshman shooting guard could be part of the game plan as the team heads into Thursday night’s game at Washington.
York had sat on the bench for seven games until playing the final 8:11 of Saturday’s rout of USC, hitting 2 of 5 3-point shots en route to seven points.
That performance — combined with a positive attitude, good work ethic, improving defense and a nice outside shot — has given Miller another option as he tries to squeeze more improvement from his 17-2 team in the back half of the season.
“The hardest thing for a freshman is to not play at all,” Miller said.
“He’s handled it well. What has happened because he’s handling it so well is he has continued to practice, he’s continued to stay involved. And he’s talented. About two weeks ago, you could start to sense he continued to get better.
“For us, adding him into the game, whether that be in place of somebody or just another player, gives you that ability to make a shot, a three.”
York’s ability to score hasn’t been a question. That’s what most highly touted freshman guards do. Having to play the kind of defense Miller and most college coaches demand is an acquired skill. York’s task in high school and travel ball was to be a scorer above all else.
“Defense is the main thing I’ve had to work on,” he said.
“Offense, that’s never been a problem. I’ve talked to Coach a lot, and he’s told me he needs to trust me on defense before I’m able to play. If my time comes, that must mean I’m doing something right.”
York has been the only of the four freshmen to be on the outside of the playing rotation. Each of the three big men — Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett — have played (usually well) at a spot in which the Cats had a huge need.
Playing time for York was always going to be difficult to obtain because of Nick Johnson, Kevin Parrom and a pair of point guards — Mark Lyons and Jordin Mayes — who can also slide over the shooting guard.
York had played only 50 minutes, mostly in mop-up time, before the USC game.
“I think this has helped me progress as a player,” he said.
“I’ve never had to do this in my career, sit like this, and I think it’s helped me just to work harder than I’ve ever had. When I do get the chance to play, I think it’s going to open a lot of people’s eyes.”
You can’t make much of the stats because it’s such a small sample size, but York has hit 6 of 17 3-pointers (35.3 percent). More important, his daily shooting — his daily effort — has impressed Miller.
“So many times, guys who come in off the bench, their greatest value is to give you that spark where he can change the game with a big shot,” Miller said. “If he’s open, Gabe is one of our best shooters. He’s continued to improve in other areas, and that is really to his credit.
“I could see him being more of a part of what we do, as long as he excels when he gets the opportunity and he continues to practice the way he’s been.”
We’ll see Thursday night if York will get that opportunity. He’s at least given himself a chance by not sulking or slacking off.
“I just go out there and approach every practice like it’s my game day,” he said. “And hopefully that will get me to where I want to be.”