While transfer Mark Lyons and the heralded group of freshmen are receiving the bulk of Arizonaís pre-season attention, it may be the two sophomores that are the wild card to how far the Cats can go this season.
Nick Johnson and Angelo Chol were both part of a consensus top 10 recruiting class that was supposed to help guide Arizona through a rebuilding year. But anyone who understands the sport of college basketball knows that top tier high schoolers donít always pan out in both skill and maturity. That was the case with Sidiki Johnson and Josiah Turner and both ended up leaving the program due to off-the-court issues.
Fortunately for Sean Miller, the personalities of the sophomores that are still in Tucson resemble nothing of the two that left.
Johnson and Chol both put in an enormous amount of work over the off-season to come out more prepared and ready to become prime contributors this year. And although the sample size has been small, it appears they are indeed at the level the coaching staff needs of them.
Chol, the Sudanese-born big man and shot-blocking protťgť, has gained more strength over the summer and his offensive game is developing. He will likely not be in the starting rotation when the Cats open the season but he should see no shortage of playing time.
Any championship caliber team must have a guy or two on their roster that can intimidate opposing players with his defensive presence and Chol is that guy for Arizona. At 6í9, 225 pounds, he has the strength and size to be a factor on defense.
In the Catsí exhibition game against Humboldt State, Chol didnít look great on offense but thatís not what Arizona needs from him. With scoring threats like Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski in the paint, Chol will not be relied on to score.
Thatís not saying Chol isnít an offensive threat but the emphasis the coaching staff will place on him is the ability to create a defensive nightmare.
Meanwhile, Johnson is close to the opposite. After shooting just 33% from behind the arc as a freshman, he developed a refined stroke during the off-season. Consistency could hold him back but ďBunniesĒ appears to be headed for a stellar sophomore season offensively.
On defense, he still has room for improvement guarding the perimeter but a senior Kevin Parrom and incoming guard Gabe York has undoubtedly forced him to work harder. Only time will tell how reliable of a defender Arizona will get out of Johnson this season.
Arizonaís surplus of depth and talent will result in less dependency on Johnson and Chol than last season, even if they are a year older. With an experienced point guard and three extremely skilled freshmen post players, Chol could even see a little less time on the court and possibly Johnson as well.
But for the Cats to compete for a national title (and that is the expectation) the two sophomores will be asked to provide a steady presence both on and off the court.
In a tournament game, it could very well be a Chol block or Johnson three pointer that determines whether Arizona goes on or returns home with an unsatisfying feeling. So while they might not get as much attention as some of the other Cats, keep in mind that the two sophomores will have a key role in this teamís success.