Saturday morning the first annual Nike Basketball Academy got underway in southern California, with the event hosting some of the top college and high school players in the country. Those in attendance will receive instruction from coaches as well as NBA players such as Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant and LeBron James.
The college roster doesn’t lack for talented players who should factor into the national Player of the Year conversations next season. Among those invited are Providence point guard Kris Dunn, Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield and Iowa State forward Georges Niang. There are also two players in the group who have yet to play a game at the Division I level in LSU’s Antonio Blakeney and Ben Simmons.
LSU is one of three schools with multiple players in attendance. Arizona has two in guard Kadeem Allen (who redshirted last season and center Kaleb Tarczewski, and Gonzaga forwards Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer are representing the Bulldogs. Below is the list of college players in attendance at the camp, which runs through the weekend.
Kadeem Allen (Arizona)
Paris Bass (Detroit)
DeAndre Bembry (Saint Joseph’s)
Antonio Blakeney (LSU)
Malcolm Brogdon (Virginia)
Isaac Copeland (Georgetown)
Tre Demps (Northwestern)
Kris Dunn (Providence)
Daniel Hamilton (Connecticut)
Buddy Hield (Oklahoma)
Justin Jackson (North Carolina)
Damian Jones (Vanderbilt)
Shawn Long (UL Lafayette)
Georges Niang (Iowa State)
Gary Payton Jr. (Oregon State)
Jakob Poeltl (Utah)
Taurean Prince (Baylor)
Domantas Sabonis (Gonzaga)
Ben Simmons (LSU)
Kaleb Tarczewski (Arizona)
Isaiah Taylor (Texas)
Jarrod Uthoff (Iowa)
Denzel Valentine (Michigan State)
Tyrone Wallace (California)
James Webb III (Boise State)
Troy Williams (Indiana)
Kyle Wiltjer (Gonzaga)
Arizona center Kaleb Tarczewski announces return for senior season
What has been expected regarding the status of Arizona center Kaleb Tarczewski became official on Friday: he will be back for his senior season. News of Tarczewski’s decision was first reported by ESPN.com, with the school confirming it shortly thereafter.
Tarczweski’s decision makes him Arizona’s lone returning starter from a team that won 34 games and reached the Elite Eight for a second consecutive season. He’ll be the elder statesman for a team that returns just one other contributing senior (guard Gabe York) from last year’s team, and the chance to be a leader of that young but talented group is just one of Tarczewski’s reasons for returning to Tucson.
“I’m also excited for the chance to be a leader next season,” Tarczewski said. “I also don’t feel as though I’ve played my best basketball. I haven’t proven myself, and this is a great opportunity for me to expand my role.”
“I’ve been here for three years. I’m almost considered a dinosaur in college basketball,” he added. “But for me, it’s about the end game. The most important thing for me is the journey and how you get to where you want to be. I’m happy to be in the position I’m in now — and I can’t wait for next year.”
The 2015-16 season could be one of multiple milestones for Tarczewski. On the court he’s 18 wins away from becoming the program’s winningest player, and in the classroom he’s on track to become the men’s basketball program’s first graduate from the business school.
Tarczewski will anchor a front line that includes Boston College transfer Ryan Anderson, rising sophomore Dusan Ristic and incoming freshman Chance Comanche. On the perimeter the Wildcats will be young but they won’t lack for talent, and they’ll once again be expected to win the Pac-12.
Reports: Arizona’s Kaleb Tarczewski to return to school
Tarczewski’s production has plateaued in the last two years. He’s got the prototypical size and strength of an NBA center, but he doesn’t have great back-to-the-basket moves and he’s limited going to his left hand. He’s also struggled to consistently rebound the ball and block shots at the college level, meaning that he is neither an elite offensive player or an elite defensive presence at the college level.
Neither of those things are promising for his NBA career.
His return does add some depth to the Arizona front court, as Tarczewski will likely reclaim his starting spot. Behind him will be Dusan Ristic, with Boston College transfer Ryan Anderson and freshman Chance Comanche sliding in at the four.
Kaleb Tarczewski produces another quality outing as No. 7 Arizona beats No. 13 Utah
Saturday night’s matchup with No. 7 Arizona represented quite the opportunity for No. 13 Utah. Not only could the Runnin’ Utes avenge their blowout loss in Tucson last month, but they could also pull into a tie for first place in the Pac-12 with two games left to play. And in a game that was tight throughout, it was Arizona that was able to make those crucial plays down the stretch.
The Wildcats finished the game on an 8-0 run, winning 63-57 and clinching at least a share of the the Pac-12 regular season title. Arizona shot just 33.3% from the field, but they limited Utah to 30.9% shooting and dominated the boards in the second half. The Wildcats managed to rebound half of its missed shots in the game’s final 20 minutes, with one key play being a Gabe York put back of his own missed free throw with 1:38 remaining.
His three points (York made the first free throw) during that sequence gave Arizona a lead they would not relinquish, as Sean Miller’s team strung together multiple stops and sealed things at the foul line.
Just as good for Arizona, especially when looking forward to even bigger games in March, was the play of junior center Kaleb Tarczewski. The 7-footer entered the game playing his best basketball of the season, and that remained the case in Salt Lake City. Tarczewski won his individual matchup with Utah freshman center Jakob Poeltl, accounting for 13 points and six rebounds in 33 minutes of action. And over the last five games Tarczewski is averaging 12.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.
By comparison, Poeltl played just 12 minutes due to foul trouble and tallied four points and five rebounds before fouling out. And in a game of this magnitude, Utah could not afford to have one of the most important players struggle on both ends of the floor.
Tarczewski, who hit a significant rough patch earlier in conference play, as how scored in double figures in four of his last five games. With Stanley Johnson shooting just 3-for-19 from the field (he did finish with 12 points and 11 rebounds), and fellow starters T.J. McConnell (five rebounds and five assists) and Brandon Ashley scoring seven points apiece, Arizona needed the contributions of Tarczewski and York (12 points).
As they have on multiple occasions in recent games those two delivered, resulting in the Wildcats picking up what is one of the most impressive road wins in college basketball this season.
Delon Wright led Utah with 17 points, five rebounds and five assists, but the ball didn’t wind up in his hands often enough down the stretch. Moving forward, Utah’s Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate will have to be even more influential as the games become even bigger than Saturday night’s was. Utah fought hard for 40 minutes, displaying the staying power they did not show in the first meeting.
But it still wasn’t enough, as Arizona remained composed and found a way take control of the game in crunch time.
Junior guard starting to give No. 7 Arizona much-needed perimeter shooting
While No. 7 Arizona’s 57-47 win over UCLA last Saturday wasn’t an offensive masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, one positive to be taken from the game was the perimeter shooting of junior guard Gabe York. After shooting a combined 2-for-9 from three in games against Arizona State and USC, York made three of his five three-point attempts and scored 13 points for the Wildcats.
On a night that saw many of the team’s main weapons struggle mightily against UCLA’s multiple defensive looks, York was a key reason (along with their defense) why the Wildcats were able to pull away despite beginning both halves with lengthy scoring droughts. The question in the days leading up to Arizona’s game at Colorado Thursday night was whether or not York would be able to build on that performance, and he answered in the affirmative.
The Wildcats had little trouble with the Buffaloes, winning 82-54, and York was one of five players to score in double figures as he tallied 14 points. York shot 4-for-5 from three, meaning that he’s made seven of his last ten three-point attempts. These last two games represent the first time since mid-December that York has managed to make multiple three-pointers in consecutive games.
“Coach (Sean Miller) got me the first shot to get me going and the defense was giving me these open looks and I just knocked them down,” York said. “Right now I just have the utmost confidence. The basket just looks like a sea to me right now.”
With a trip to Salt Lake City to take on No. 13 Utah Saturday night next on the schedule, Thursday’s win was just what Arizona needed from an offensive standpoint. The Wildcats shot nearly 53 percent from the field against Colorado, and with junior center Kaleb Tarczewski playing with increased confidence (he’s averaging 12.8 points and 6.3 rebounds over the last four games) Arizona’s getting more production from its starting center.
With all of the athletic tools at Sean Miller’s disposal they need a pressure release of sorts, a player who can make teams pay for sagging in order to take away driving lanes for wings Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. And as the calendar approaches March, Gabe York is beginning to emerge as that figure.
Chemistry the biggest factor in Arizona’s quest for a national title
After winning 27 games and reaching the Sweet 16 in 2012-13, big things were expected of the Arizona Wildcats in 2013-14 and Sean Miller’s team delivered. Despite having to replace three of their top four scorers the Wildcats won 33 games and a regular season Pac-12 title, reaching the Elite 8 of the NCAA tournament as well. Arizona didn’t have the deepest rotation, especially after forward Brandon Ashley was lost for the season in early February with a foot injury, but they had talent, athleticism and a stingy half-court defense that was among the best in the country.
Even more is expected of the Wildcats in 2014-15, with Ashley back to full strength as he joins point guard T.J. McConnell and center Kaleb Tarczewski as the team’s returning starters. Add in the likes of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Gabe York, who were reserves a season ago, and one of the nation’s best recruiting classes, led by small forward Stanley Johnson, and on paper the depth issue that Arizona had to manage in 2013-14 isn’t expected to be an issue this season.
However, even with that being the case, and Arizona being considered to be one of the favorites to cut down the nets in Indianapolis, there are still questions to be answered. The biggest? How will Arizona account for the loss of starters Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon, with their intangibles being just as — if not more — important as the numbers they provided.
“One of the strengths of last year’s team was our team chemistry,” Miller said at the team’s media day last month. “We had a group of high-character players that were on a mission to have a successful season as a team. Obviously a year ago every one of them wanted to do well individually, but everybody understood that first and foremost we were going to do it as a team.
“And with that team success the individual accolades would follow, which is exactly what happened.”
There may have been no player who better fits into those words than Johnson, who averaged 16.3 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. The numbers were good but Johnson’s leadership was even better, ultimately resulting in his being named Pac-12 Player of the Year and a finalist for the Naismith national Player of the Year award. Johnson’s leadership impacted the program both on and off the court, with the camaraderie factoring into the team being able to go as far as it did without Ashley.
And in regard to Gordon, who accounted for 12.4 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game last season, the label of being a “one and done” prospect didn’t have an impact on the way he played the game. Gordon simply did the things he did best, seamlessly fitting into the Arizona attack.
“I think that one credit I give Aaron is he always was true to himself,” Miller said at Pac-12 media day last month. “We gave him a role and he did it to the best of his ability. We’re at that point now where, as we start to define roles, it’s important that guys stay within the framework of that role, embrace it, do the very best they can.”
“In Nick and Aaron’s case, part of what made them so good, they really didn’t try to be a whole lot of what they weren’t. They tried to bring their array of skills that they were already good at to the table, not just in games but every day.”
Both players were key defensively for a team that finished the season ranked first nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency (per kenpom.com), and they were also ranked in the top ten nationally in both field goal percentage (fourth) and scoring (sixth) defense. Athleticism, which Arizona didn’t lack last season and certainly won’t in 2014-15, helps but factors such as chemistry and execution are just as important. Building a similar level of chemistry is what this current Arizona team is working to do, and the process won’t be an easy one even with the amount of individual talent on the roster.
In addition to the starters, players such as junior Gabe York, sophomore Elliott Pitts and freshman Craig Victor will look to earn opportunities as well. With Ashley out of the lineup York made 12 starts, reaching double figures in five of those games and finishing the season with an average of 6.7 points per game. Perimeter shooting, a sore spot for the Wildcats last season, remains an issue that needs to be addressed with the hope being that players such as York can step forward.
Talent is a required attribute of any team looking to put together an exemplary season. But even for the most talented of teams it’s the intangibles like leadership and chemistry that separate a good season and a special one. As is the case for any team, Arizona will need time to establish roles and camaraderie as they look to take that next step, with the ultimate goal being to duplicate the feat accomplished by the 1997 team (they won the national title in Indianapolis, cite of this year’s Final Four). And therein lies the greatest challenge facing Arizona this season.
“It’s up to guys like Brandon now, myself, to rekindle that [chemistry of last season’s team],” Miller noted last month. “We find ourselves as we try to do it, it doesn’t happen in 12 days. It certainly doesn’t happen when you’re welcoming such a big group of new players into a cast that has a big group of guys that have been there before.
“I think part of it is the quest of bringing everyone together, a big challenge for us at this point.”