Pac-12 Burning Questions: Most Improved Senior?Posted by AMurawa on February 26th, 2013
Our Pac-12 commentators are back with their answers to the biggest questions around the conference. This week, who is the most improved senior in the league?
Adam Butler: There was plenty of hype surrounding Solomon Hill. He was a top 50 player being likened to other Wildcat point-forwards like Richard Jefferson, Andre Iguodala, and Luke Walton. Sure that list is eclectically pieced together but the fact remains that Hill’s skill set was such that he could score, board, and dish. And it sounded great. But then Lute wasn’t the coach. And then he was. And then he wasn’t and Hill’s commitment to Arizona followed the same course until he finally settled on his hometown Trojans. Following Arizona’s 2009 season in which they made the Sweet Sixteen, a coaching hunt ensued. It wasn’t the prettiest thing but it landed Sean Miller in Tucson and the rest is history in the making. Of course Hill’s path back to Tucson wouldn’t make much sense without, say, an NCAA scandal (he was not involved) and the subsequent quitting of his USC coach and release from his LOI.
Soon on his doorstep was Arizona’s new lead man and, among the now-fabled 2009 recruiting class to join Sean Miller for year one in Tucson, Hill was the first to commit. But he was overweight and undercommitted, perhaps waltzing in with a sense of entitlement. His freshman year looked something like this: 6/4/2. He made four three-pointers. Today he’s widely considered one of the most complete players in the conference, going for 14/6/2 while connecting on 40% of his threes of which he’s made 46 attempts. Solomon has endured and blossomed in the most interesting of times for Arizona basketball and has carried the torch into the new era. He (along with fellow senior, Kevin Parrom) will be the first four-year players under Miller to move through the program. Their senior day will be bittersweet but it won’t be a farewell. After all, Miller calls it a “player’s program.” Solomon Hill embodies that program.
Connor Pelton: Coming out of the Australian Institute of Sport in Brisbane, Brock Motum was largely ranked as a three-star power forward. There was a bit of hype surrounding him, but it was more of the unknown, has potential if his game translates from overseas kind of hype. Motum was a Tony Bennett signee, and when he inked he was expected by most to be a first-year starter. But then things got messy on the Palouse, Bennett went to Virginia, and Ken Bone was brought in to lead Washington State. Bone’s vision was decidedly different than that of Bennett’s, and Motum rode the bench for the majority of his freshman season. There were murmurs of a transfer, but the Aussie decided to stick it out, and boy was that the right decision. The only member of the 2009 team still with the Cougars, Motum blossomed from the first or second man off the bench in 2010-11 into the Pac-12’s most improved player as a junior. His ability to shoot it from anywhere on the floor, yet with the hard-nosed mentality to muscle inside, makes him one of the most fun to watch and unique players in the conference. His senior year from a team perspective might not be going the way he would have liked, but averaging 17.9 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, it’s hardly his fault. For a tenure that included the blossoming of future NBA first-rounder Klay Thompson, it’s not the Golden State sharpshooter that has been Ken Bone’s best work. Motum is that man.
Parker Baruh: After a year at the College of Southern Idaho, Carrick Felix originally committed to Duke. Once he de-committed, questions arose as to whether he didn’t qualify academically or if it really was just the wrong fit for the Arizona native. Whatever the case was, when Felix chose to go back to his home state and sign with Arizona State, Herb Sendek and his coaching staff couldn’t have been more pleased. However, after Felix’s first two years in Tempe, the Sun Devils had only won a combined 22 games and the wing wasn’t playing up to his potential. In his first year, Felix only averaged 14 minutes a game and averaged 4.6 points on a bit more than four shots per game. The following year Felix improved his scoring to 10.5 points per game, but was shooting a mediocre 42 percent from the field; yet, it all came together in Felix’s senior campaign where he’s been arguably the most improved player in the Pac-12. This year, he’s averaging a career-high 14.3 points per game, shooting 37 percent from three, and 51 percent from the field. He’s used his 6’6″ stature to his advantage when he plays guard and forward at times and has been a beast on the glass in averaging eight rebounds per game, doubling his previous season’s tally. For most of Felix’s career he was an underachiever stuck in a losing environment that didn’t bode well for anyone. Now in his final year, Felix has polished every facet of his game and is hurting teams inside and out. Although the Sun Devils’ chances to make the NCAA Tournament look more bleak after their loss to Washington this weekend, without the play of Carrick Felix, they likely wouldn’t even be on the bubble.
Andrew Murawa: Rather than offer up an additional choice, I’m going to play the role of tiebreaker here, because my colleagues have nailed down the top three choices. Carrick Felix, Solomon Hill and Brock Motum have all gone from afterthoughts in their first years to all-conference types down the line. But while Felix and Hill earned plenty of minutes in their debut seasons in the conference, Motum, a 200-pound freshman without an obvious position, was limited to just six minutes per night in the 19 games in which he saw action. Sure, he showed glimpses of the player he was to become, knocking down jumpers and showing a good mind for the game, but he was regularly overpowered by the more physically mature big guys he had to compete with. His sophomore year he wasn’t a whole lot bigger (he had added maybe 15 pounds), but he showed more toughness inside while displaying a great face-up game. And then last year, fully beefed up to a solid 235-pound power forward and with offensive focus Klay Thompson gone, Motum exploded. While his numbers have dipped this season as teams have focused their game planning around him, the fact that Brock Motum has turned into a guy that opposing coaches look to lock up is a testament to the hard work the Aussie has put in to improve his game.