Arizona lost a reserve forward on Friday as the university announced in a release that sophomore forward Zach Peters would end his basketball career due to medical issues. Peters will remain on scholarship as a student because to a medical exemption and ends his basketball career due to issues stemming from concussions.
A former Kansas transfer and native of Plano, Texas, the 6-foot-10 Peters appeared in 11 games for Arizona during the 2013-14 season, tallying 31 total minutes and scoring zero points while grabbing four rebounds. Peters was a grassroots and high school teammate of former Kentucky forward Julius Randle and was regarded as the No. 137 prospect in Rivals.com‘s 2012 national rankings.
“You never want to see anyone’s athletic career cut short by injury, especially a person of Zach’s character,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said in the release. “That being said, this is a decision made with an eye toward Zach’s bright and productive future. He has nothing but our full support as he begins his next chapter.”
“I want to thank everyone who has supported me throughout my basketball career,” Peters said in the release. “I especially want to thank my family, as well as the medical staff, coaching staff and my teammates at the University of Arizona for their support over the course of a trying year.
“As advised by many medical professionals, this is the best course of action to ensure myself a safe and healthy future. I’m excited to remain a student and pursue a degree at the University of Arizona.”
If Anderson chooses another school, Arizona could go a number of different routes for that final scholarship as they can look at transfer options, JuCo players or bank the scholarship for the next recruiting class.
According to a report from the Arizona Star, Peters is expected to be fully cleared for practice and games today. He had been held out of full-contact drills previously, as Peters was undergoing further testing as a result of five concussions that he has suffered over the last three years. There’s a chance he could suit up on Friday against Cal Poly.
Over the weekend, Peters was out in Pittsburgh where he visited a concussion specialist who had previously given him a troubling evaluation.
Peters was originally enrolled at Kansas, but he left the program midway through last season to return to Dallas and take classes at a community college.
The circumstances surrounding that decision are a bit frightening. From the Star:
Peters first suffered a concussion at a LeBron James camp during the summer of 2011, then another while playing high school football during the fall of 2011.
He suffered a concussion shortly after arriving at Kansas in June 2012, and while he played during the Jayhawks’ summer exhibition tour in August, Peters suffered a concussion in September and took another blow later in the fall while wearing a protective helmet.
By November 2012, Peters announced he would transfer from Kansas and returned home to suburban Dallas. He enrolled in classes at Collin College in Texas but could not take any heavy analytical courses because his brain wasn’t ready, Tim Peters said.
It’s good to hear that Peters is doing better. As we all know, concussions are not something to mess around with.
– G: T.J. McConnell, Jr.
– G: Nick Johnson, Jr.
– F: Aaron Gordon, Fr.
– F: Brandon Ashley, So.
– C: Kaleb Tarczewski, So.
– Bench: Jordin Mayes, Sr.; Gabe York, So.; Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Fr.; Zach Peters, Fr.
They’ll be good because …: Once again, Sean Miller brought in a loaded recruiting class, this one with enough firepower to offset the fact that Arizona not only lost three of their top four scorers from a season ago, but that two former blue-chip recruits left the program with eligibility remaining. The biggest name of the bunch is obviously Aaron Gordon, a top five recruit that is spending his one-and-done season in Tucson.
He’s far from the only addition, however. Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell will take over the point guard role where he will be a better fit than Mark Lyons was. Losing Solomon Hill’s leadership will hurt, but freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will be capable of replacing his versatile role in the lineup. Add in the return of the underrated Nick Johnson as well as sophomore big men Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski, who should improve as sophomores, and Miller will have plenty of talent to work with this year.
But they might disappoint because …: The reason that Gordon is at Arizona is because they will allow him to play on the perimeter. Gordon, who has drawn comparisons to Blake Griffin for his ability to posterize anyone and everyone between him and a rim, believes that his future lies as a small forward in the NBA, and that may be true. He’s a gifted athlete that is capable of knocking down a three. If he keeps working, there’s no reason that can’t happen … down the road.
Those last three words are key, because as of right now, Gordon simply won’t be as effective on the perimeter as he will playing inside. Remember how good Derrick Williams was for Arizona during the 2010-2011 season? Well Gordon is basically a more athletic and more skilled Derrick Williams. Now let’s factor in that Arizona’s roster makeup is perfect for him to play the four. He’ll share front court minutes with Ashley and Tarczewski while allowing natural wing Hollis-Jefferson to see more minutes. Instead of struggling to prove himself against college threes, Gordon would be dominating college fours that try to stay with him on the perimeter while also defending the rim on the defensive end of the floor.
Outlook: Even with the additions that Oregon made this offseason, Arizona is the most talented team in the Pac-12. They have a potential all-american in Gordon, two promising big men in Ashley and Tarczewski, and a back court of McConnell and Johnson that is much better than it looks on paper. Winning the conference should be the bare minimum for this group; they enter the season as a Final Four favorite and a legitimate contender to win the national title.
While I hate to beat the point to death, the bottom line is that Arizona’s best chance of reaching those lofty expectations will be if Gordon plays the majority of his minutes in the front court for a couple of reasons. For starters, Arizona has a pair of terrific defenders in the back court with McConnell and Johnson. Add in Hollis-Jefferson, and Miller’s club will be able to apply nightmarish pressure defensively. Now imagine if, by chance, any of those three got beat to the rim. Can you imagine trying to finish over someone as athletic as Gordon?
That’s not the only issue. Arizona is already going to have issues shooting the ball from the perimeter. Gordon is capable of hitting a three, but he’s anything-but a great perimeter shooter. Playing the four, he’ll have a lot more time and space to get off those threes, because opposing big men aren’t going to want to close out long and risk getting burned for a dunk. Arizona can still win the Pac-12 if Miller plays Gordon on a wing, but the Wildcats won’t be nearly as dangerous.
Expectations are higher than they have ever been for Sean Miller at Arizona. Fresh off of a run to the Sweet 16 and with a dynamite 2013 recruiting class consisting of Aaron Gordon and Rondae Jefferson, the Wildcats will most likely open the season as a Top 5 team.
And, why shouldn’t they be ranked that high?
With the preceding two players entering the program and being immediate difference makers in conjunction with T.J. McConnell, who is one of the top point guards in the country, now eligible, Arizona has the pieces to make an even deeper run in the NCAA Tournament come March. Sure they’re young, but the talent is there, and Sean Miller is one of the best young basketball minds in the game.
Even still, Miller has his concerns.
He told AZ Central last week on his team’s high praise and preseason ranking: “It’s just the way it goes but I do believe with where we’re rated, how good we’re supposed to be, we may not be that good. I don’t know yet. We have a lot of interchangeable players but from a pure body perspective we may be one man down on the front line.”
At the time, the eligibility of forward Zach Peters, who transferred from Kansas due to be closer to his family after suffering multiple concussions last year, was in flux. It frustrated Miller, and only complicated matters of what his rotation would look like if Peters wasn’t ruled immediately eligible.
Okay, so Miller now has that extra body he needed on the front line. But, what about his team’s ability to shoot the basketball, a department they were so strong in last season? Miller said in late August: “I don’t think there’s a college basketball program of the 347 that have shot more basketballs than we have this summer.”
A month later, his concerns about scoring from the perimeter are still there: “And shooting in particular, although I don’t know if I’d say we’re not going to be a good shooting team, we have a number of guys we’re going to count on that haven’t done it or are going to have to do it better so that remains to be seen as well.”
The three point shot was a big part of Arizona’s offense last season as they attempted 675 threes (56th in the country), and connected on 37.1% of their attempted (45th in the country). With graduation claiming Mark Lyons, Solomon Hill, and Kevin Parrom, plus Grant Jerrett leaving for the NBA after his freshman year, Arizona is without four of their top perimeter threats.
One of the major storylines to follow in the season’s opening weeks is what role Aaron Gordon plays within the offense. If he demonstrates the ability to play the three and knock down a jump shot at a high clip, that will certainly go a long way in putting Miller at ease.
Arizona, like every other team, has problem areas entering the year. Yet, even with Miller’s concerns which aren’t unfounded by any stretch, Arizona is still one of the top teams in the country. I will posit that that the Wildcats will indeed be “good,” rather than “not that good” as Miller claimed — chalk that statement up by Miller as nothing more than preseason jitters.