Coast 2 Coast Hoops
Almost two months ago, after Arizona eked out a close win against Utah at McKale Center, Sean Miller waxed poetic.
“Freshmen eventually cross a line where they are no longer freshmen, they’re just players," Miller said.
Unfortunately, he was talking about Utah's Jordan Loveridge, who lit Arizona up for 17 points that night.
But now, almost two months later, it's Arizona's freshmen that are crossing that boundary.
"I think all of the freshmen are trying to turn that corner," said starting center Kaleb Tarczewski, after an inspired 10 point, 8 rebound effort against Washington. Tarczewski was instrumental in Arizona's 70-52 embarrassment of Washington, hitting 4 of 6 shots and looking as good in the post as he has all season.
"We've played so many games and we get more experienced towards our sophomore year," Tarczewski said. "We're really trying to play our game and play team basketball and play as hard as we can."
It's working. For as lauded as Arizona's freshman class was, it's been a bumpy ride. Some have struggled with consistency, some have struggled with the speed of the game, and some have struggled just to see the court. But the work is paying off.
Take Gabe York for example. I remember watching him play in the Dick's Sporting Good's Holiday Classic in December of 2011; I was one of maybe six cameras in the tiny gym, and none of our lens' left York's vicinity.
Not only did he hit clutch three pointers at the end of regulation and overtime to lead his team to victory, he also broke Orange Lutheran High School's all time scoring record, and he still had another half of his senior season left. I daresay his long range clutch shooting was Salim Stoudemire-esque that evening.
So as an unabashed York fan, it's been a little hard to see his opportunities come few and far between this year. But give York credit. It's not an easy transition going from the unequivocal man in high school to being buried on the depth chart.
That's why it was so satisfying to see York get in the game against Washington early, even if it was for just four first half minutes. It was a sign that York's not just treading water at Arizona, he's gaining traction.
York chose the Wildcats over Marquette and Washington. Make no mistake about it, he would be putting up much better statistics for either of those teams. But it doesn't matter how many minutes York gets per game from here on out. He's looking more comfortable on the court, and he's trying to play his game. As long as he continues to shoot with confidence, he'll emerge as the player he is.
When you're evaluating freshmen, you can't get too hung up on consistency. Peaks and valleys are part of the territory, just look at Brandon Ashley.
During the early season, Ashley struggled to find any sort of game to game rhythm. He had a 20 point, 10 rebound performance in just his third career game, but he didn't always show the confidence that made him a top 10 player coming out of Findlay Prep, one of the nation's high school basketball powerhouses.
If you've watched Ashley over the last few games. it's clear that he's regaining that confidence. He's not hesitating to shoot the midrange jumper, and it's been forever since he lowered his shoulder and charged while trying to drive.
In high school, Ashley was an offensive force. The game was almost too easy for him, and many scouts questioned his desire because of it. But now that the game isn't as easy, we're starting to see the motivated Ashley.
As a ferocious offensive rebounder with a knack for finding the rim, it's only a matter of time until Ashley comes into his own. And with double digit scoring efforts in three of his last four games, that time may be sooner rather than later.
With a freshman post tandem of Tarczewski and Ashley, it's easy to forget about Grant Jerrett. But you would be foolish to do so. At 6'10, Jerrett is unquestionably the best three point shooter on the team. It hasn't always manifested itself in games, but the value of a post player with deadeye perimeter shooting will prove invaluable as the season wears on.
And even though Jerrett may not get many headlines, he's getting attention from the people that matter. Way back in October 2012, during the annual Red-Blue game, one NBA scout told PGU
that Jerrett would end up being the best Arizona player in the last five years, including Derrick Williams. That's high praise from a good source.
Like Jerrett, Tarczewski entered his freshman season with high praise. As a 7-footer, there are natural expectations for effectiveness down low. Tarczewski did not enjoy that effectiveness right away.
He didn't have a double digit scoring game until January 3rd, and he wasn't a reliable option for the entry pass. Complain all you want about Arizona not playing inside-out, but Tarczewski just wasn't converting when he got the ball deep.
That's starting to change. Tarczewski strung together three consecutive double digit scoring games in late January, including a 10 point, 8 rebound duplicate performance at Washington for Sean Miller's first win in Seattle.
How fitting it was that he posted the same line in Arizona's domination of Washington last night. It might be a sign that Tarczewski is indeed turning that corner that he described all the freshmen encountering, though you shouldn't be surprised to see a few speed bumps along the way.
But as Miller opined not long ago, “Freshmen eventually cross a line where they are no longer freshmen, they’re just players."
Arizona's freshmen might just be crossing that line.