Arizona will have a very different roster from last season in terms of players receiving regular minutes and one of the new players expected to compete for early minutes is freshman wing Ray Smith. A talented 6-foot-8 wing from Las Vegas, Smith tore his ACL during the July live evaluation period during the summer of 2014, costing him his senior season of high school basketball.
But Smith worked hard during rehab and is ready to enter college basketball completely healthy, according to head coach Sean Miller. In an interview with Bruce Pascoe, Miller explained how hard Smith worked to be in a position to play right away for the Wildcats:
“Ray’s cleared for everything right now. Him and his dad did an incredible job going from last summer when he sustained the injury to being patient and yet super aggressive in the rehabilitation process. And he came to us at a really good place. We were really careful the first couple of months that he was here to make sure his strength level in both legs was good. …
“He loves the game. He’s really talented. When I look at him, he reminds me in some ways of a bouncier Solomon Hill in that he’s 6-8, he has a great skill level shooting, he’s a very creative, unselfish passer and he’s fluid in transition. We have high hopes for him. He can play small forward, and like all the guys who play small forward for us, sometimes we play them at the four.”
Miller goes into detail about other players on the Arizona roster, including other newcomers, in Pascoe’s full interview, but it’s especially good to see that Smith is back to full strength. Regarded as a five-star prospect, Smith was kind of a forgotten player in the Class of 2015 since he hasn’t played much in the past year, but he has a chance to open some eyes with his play early if he’s completely ready to go.
A trademark for Arizona teams in recent years has been their stinginess on the defensive end of the floor, with the Wildcats using the pack line defense to limit quality looks in the paint. In each of the last two seasons Sean Miller’s teams have been ranked in the top five in adjusted defensive efficiency by Ken Pomeroy, leading the country in 2013-14 and finishing third in that category this past season.
Yet while that stifling half-court defense will be something he looks to call upon while coaching the United States U19 team at the upcoming FIBA U19 World Championships, the team’s depth and athleticism have resulted in a slight change to Miller’s usual defensive approach. The Americans will use a full-court press after every made basket and dead ball in this event, as noted in a story written by Bruce Pascoe of the Arizona Daily Star.
The goal, just as it was two years ago when the U19 team led by Billy Donovan with Miller and Ed Cooley serving as assistants won gold, is to speed up the game against teams that will in all likelihood aim to keep the action at a more methodical pace.
While the Wildcats press only in spot situations, USA Basketball believes a constantly pressing defense and energetic, well-spaced offense can maximize the talent, length and athleticism advantages the Americans tend to have in international competition.
So USA Basketball plays differently. And Miller will coach differently.
“When the press is great, is when he (opposing ballhandler) catches the ball, you speed him up, and he turns without you fouling,” Miller tells the players.
This will be interesting to watch, especially when considering the fact that since FIBA changed the scheduling of this event to every other year in 2007 (as opposed to every four years) the United States has yet to win back-to-back gold medals. This is a roster filled with athletic players who can make things happen in the open floor, and the pressure defense can make the Americans even more difficult for opponents to deal with.
The United States tips off its tournament June 27 with a pool play game against Iran.
While he took some time to evaluate his options, Arizona freshman forward Stanley Johnson has decided to enter the 2015 NBA Draft. Johnson announced his decision to forego his final three seasons of eligibility Thursday evening at a press conference held with Arizona head coach Sean Miller.
Named the Pac-12’s top rookie and also a first team all-conference selection, Johnson averaged a team-best 13.8 points per game in 2014-15 while also accounting for 6.5 rebounds. The 6-foot-7 Fullerton, California product, who’s projected to be a lottery pick in the June draft, shot 44.6 percent from the field and 37.1 percent from beyond the arc.
Johnson’s departure is one that the Wildcats planned for recruiting-wise, as their incoming freshman class has multiple perimeter players capable of putting points on the board. Findlay Prep product Allonzo Trier is the most highly regarded of the group, but Las Vegas native Ray Smith (who missed his senior season with a torn ACL) will also be heard from on the wing and combo guard Justin Simon can play either on or off the ball.
Arizona also returns multiple perimeter players (not counting point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright) from last season’s Elite Eight team, with Gabe York and Elliott Pitts being the most experienced and junior college transfer Kadeem Allen available after redshirting last season.
Losing a player as talented as Johnson hurts, but Arizona’s worked hard to ensure that they have the pieces needed to account for this news. Next up for them is an official declaration from center Kaleb Tarczewski, whom many believe will return to Tucson for his senior season.