Arizona Week: Q&A With Pachoops’ Adam ButlerPosted by AMurawa on June 29th, 2012
As we head toward closing out our coverage of the Arizona basketball program in our third of a summer-long series of in-depth looks at Pac-12 schools, we’re inviting Adam Butler of Pachoops back in to give us his thoughts on the big questions facing the Wildcats in 2012-13. Adam gave us a hand yesterday with our Burning Question of the week, and we hope to have him back from time to time to add his unique perspective. Without further ado, here’s what we came up with:
RTC: Let’s dig right in here Adam, starting from the top of the program. So, in 29 seasons since Lute Olson took over the Wildcat program, the team has missed the NCAA Tournament exactly three times: Olson’s first year, and then two of the three years under current head coach Sean Miller. Yet, it seems there is a confidence around the program that not only do they have the right coach, but that big things are on the verge of happening again in Tucson. Do you hold that view as well? And why or why not?
AB: Oh the Lute years were sweet. Arizona was no worse than a five-seed for 16 straight tournaments. Do you realize how awful March 2010 was for me? I literally fled the country. But I’ve digressed. Yes, I think Sean Miller is on the verge of very big things. He’s a phenomenal coach and has already demonstrated such in very short order. He took a bare cupboard and turned that into an Elite Eight; and before we get too far down the road talking about how that 2009 class fell into his lap, it did fall into his lap and those kids could’ve gone anywhere. But they chose Miller for a reason. And my impression of that reason is that he’s piecing together a very special something in the desert. I like to use Indiana’s rebuilding as a barometer and if you look at where they are following Kelvin Sampson bottoming them out, Tom Crean is in year five with the top team in the country in the preseason. Last season – year four – was their first taste of big success again. Arizona has essentially followed the same trajectory (2010-11 was a glorious anomaly), and finds itself with a very sound roster here in Miller year four and project to have a filthy year five. Here, let me pass you the Kool-Aid.
RTC: While the 2012-13 version of the Wildcats will have five returnees from last season, all of whom should get some run, it is a group of four highly touted freshmen and incoming transfer Mark Lyons who give the program the most cause for optimism. Let’s start with Lyons. He’s not a true point, is more of a shoot-first guy and his most recent head coach, Chris Mack, didn’t seem all that sad to see him transfer. Can he really be the type of point guard to help meld together some talented returnees with a frontcourt-heavy freshman class?
AB: Like I said in the Burning Question, Lyons and Arizona were the perfect situation for one another and my gut tells me that when a perfect situation arises, great things can happen. But that’s not to say it’s going to be peachy. He has a contentious past and he’s jumping into a situation where his ascension to starter/primary ball handler/go-to-guy could be alienating. That’s where Miller comes in. The head coach has to set roles to get the best out of his players and the slightly alarming transfer rate out of Tucson may suggest that Miller doesn’t quite have a full grasp of the kids he’s been bringing in. Alas, Lyons and Miller (along with Book Richardson and Kevin Parrom) have a relationship that dates well into the past – certainly a longer, richer relationship than Miller had established with say, Josiah Turner. The nice thing in all of this is that few question Lyons’ talent. Sure he may not be a true point guard, but he’s no doubt an upgrade from the other roster options. Jordin Mayes can be a solid backup but also is not a true point so this really is a perfect situation for both parties.
RTC: As for the freshmen, Kaleb Tarczewski is the most highly regarded recruit, but will he be the biggest impact player of the bunch? And aside from him, do you expect any of the others to surprise?
AB: I’m very excited to see what Grant Jerrett does. He has a very polished game and is a true low post player, something people don’t always find sexy or flashy but it tends to be highly effective. Take Tim Duncan’s word for it. Amongst the four incoming pups, I think Jerrett is most poised to make an immediate impact because he’s has the most sound grasp of the game. Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley strike me as projects with tremendous upside and natural abilities. Ashley has athleticism for days and appears to still be trying to find consistency to his game while Tarczewski is, well, a seven-foot eighteen-year-old and there’s a lot of moving parts there. That’s not to say that either of these two are bad, quite the contrary, but by way of immediate impact, I love what I’ve seen and read of Jerrett’s game. The fourth member of the class, Gabe York, once did this but finds himself in a bit of a log jam at the two-guard spot with Nick Johnson, Parrom, Mayes, and maybe even a little bit of Solomon Hill. He can fill it up with the best of them but is really going to have to compete to see the floor a ton.
RTC: Turning an eye to the returnees, Johnson and Angelo Chol would seem to be the two guys with the biggest upside, although Hill may be the most valuable and Parrom could be due for a breakout as well. Which returning player will be most important to this team’s success this year?
AB: Wouldn’t it be nice to see a full, healthy season from Kevin Parrom? Kid plays a fearless and heady game, he’s fun to watch, and just competes. I absolutely love how he plays and how he impacts the game in so many ways. If he can have the kind of season he’s capable of having, Arizona will be a very tough squad. Nick Johnson is a terrific athlete and another elite competitor (a theme we’re going to see as Miller gets his recruiting legs about him). He struggled last year with consistency, ball handling, and confidence. But these are all things I expect to straighten out with a year under his belt. You guys wrote so well on Solomon Hill and I ultimately think that he’s the most important returner in that he’s already been successful. That said, I think the most intriguing returner is Angelo Chol. Should the lefty work his way into the starting lineup, it would suggest he’s better than two of the three freshmen and I find that frightening. He’s raw but again, if he’s starting, something has clicked in the offseason and making the Wildcats that much deeper and letting the freshmen bigs come off the bench in a less pressured role. I don’t think he’ll be the most important to the team’s success, but his success will be very indicative of how good this team can be.
RTC: There’s a lot of talent here, but is there enough that the Wildcats should be the favorite in the Pac-12?
AB: Did Josh Smith hit the gym? Because Shabazz Muhammad is a game changer and that Bruins lineup is big but it still boils down to what UCLA is going to get out of big Josh Smith. However, your question pertains to the Wildcats and I have to say there are more question marks in Tucson than Westwood so I’m giving the “favorites” nod to Ben Howland and crew. Outside of Hill and Lyons no one on this Arizona roster has really done anything so they’re going to need to prove they are favorable to be favorites. While they may be lacking a true point guard, there are lineups that could feature four legitimate ball handlers, but will that expose the ‘Cats to a possible black hole? There are big bodies for days, unlike last year, but can you really rely on three freshmen and a light sophomore to hold down the paint? What does a healthy Kevin Parrom even look like? Who is Jordin Mayes (3P% 2010-11: 45%, 2011-12: 29%)? Many questions indeed but there is an argument to be made that these are Cadillac problems. I mean, Solomon Hill could be the third best player on this team. These ‘Cats aren’t necessarily the favorite to win the school’s twelfth Pac title but don’t be surprised if they’re right there bear fighting for it in March.