Oregon State v Arizona - Semifinals

Arizona’s young big men benefitting from extra skill work

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With one of the nation’s best recruiting classes arriving on campus, the Arizona Wildcats have been one of the teams pegged to contend for the Pac-12 title this season.

Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski add some much-needed depth inside, something that was missing from last year’s team that fell to Bucknell in the first round of the Postseason NIT.

And once practice officially begins next month, those youngsters likely won’t have as difficult a time adjusting to the college game thanks to the amount of on-court work the Wildcats have been able to do.

It all began in June for Arizona, with individual and small group workouts for the players enrolled in the first session of summer classes.

Then came the ten NCAA-mandated practices ahead of their trip to the Bahamas, where Arizona rolled up four victories in convincing fashion.

Now Sean Miller’s players are working in small groups again, something that he’s taken multiple approaches to in regards to setting the sessions up.

“We try to do it two ways,” he said. “Sometimes they’re with each other in a position group where the focus is on their set of skills, but sometimes you can mix them up, have two smaller guards and two bigger guys, and you can work on different dynamics.

“We try to hit on all parts. Some defense and skill development, some team things. We try to make it almost like a mini-practice and most importantly try to simulate a fast pace.”

Members of the media were able to watch the three freshmen big men and sophomore Angelo Chol work out on Wednesday, and Miller sounded pleased with their progress when interviewed afterward.

There’s no glossing over the importance of Xavier transfer Mark Lyons this year, but the progression of the front court will determine just how far Arizona can go.

Both Chol and Tarczewski have added weight while Ashley is considered to be the most versatile front court player of the group.

“He can guard perimeter players, which I think will happen as his career unfolds, and we’re also counting on him to be able to guard the low post so we’re hitting him with a lot. He’s been here since June, and more than anyone in the program he’s been consistent with his work ethic, which is a heck of a compliment to give him as a freshman.

“The game comes easy to him. There’s times where during his career I’m sure he’ll be able to play with two front court players, there’s times where he can be one of the two front court players in the game. But it’s his versatility that’s his greatest gift.”

Their growth means that senior Solomon Hill, who has to be considered one of the early favorites for Pac-12 Player of the Year, won’t have to play the four as he did on many occasions last season.

Arizona was largely ineffective inside in 2011-12, and that ultimately led to them ending up in the NIT. Based on early returns, that shouldn’t be an issue in 2012-13.

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

VIDEO: UNLV’s Derrick Jones with more ridiculous dunks

Kelly Kline
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UNLV freshman Derrick Jones is probably the best dunker in college basketball and he took flight a few times on Tuesday afternoon at the Maui Invitational.

The Runnin’ Rebels trailed host school Chaminade at the half before rallying for a win and Jones had a couple of highlight-reel plays in the win.

VIDEO: UMass Lowell game delayed by shattered backboard

Pat Duquette
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UMass Lowell’s game with Wheelock College was delayed for a little over an hour on Tuesday afternoon after a dunk attempt from Dontavius Smith broke the backboard.

The game resumed and UMass Lowell won 104-76. Here’s the video of Smith shattering the glass after he took flight. Smith finished the game with 14 points.