Despite the loss of NBA draft picks Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson, Arizona is expected to be one of the contenders to cut down the nets in Indianapolis next spring. One reason is the arrival of one of the country’s best recruiting classes, a group led by elite wing Stanley Johnson. But more important than the newcomers are the players due back in Tucson, including big men Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski, small forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and point guard T.J. McConnell.
A question for Sean Miller’s Wildcats had to address during the summer was who would step forward as the team leaders, with Johnson’s depature leaving a noticeable void in that area. One player who has stepped forward is McConnell, and in an interview with Bruce Pascoe of the Arizona Daily Star he discussed life without Johnson and how much the Houston Rocket helped team chemistry last season.
Is it different for you in your third year here?
A: Kind of. Last year, Nick was that go-to guy that we always went to. He was that rah-rah guy, pretty much our leader. He’s gone and new leaders have to step in whether it be me or anyone else. I’m fully capable and willing to take that role and I’m going to push everyone every day and try to do what Nick did for us last year.
Was living together last year fun or did you get on each other’s nerves? You’re together so much anyway.
A: At first I wasn’t sure I wanted to see these guys every day. I’m not sure everyone felt the same way. But it was good to just be able to walk next door and talk to the guys after a game, and after a bad practice you’d have all those guys surrounding you. So it was actually good. Nick was 100 percent the reason we did that and I thank him for that.
Offseason workouts can go a long way towards determining who the team leaders will be, and given McConnell’s position as the starting point guard he should be a natural fit for that role. Leaders are important for any team, much less one that will have to manage lofty preseason expectations while looking to complete the mission they saw come to a tough end in the Elite Eight last year.
Arizona has plenty of talent; outside of Kentucky there may not be another team in the country that can match their depth especially with Ashley back from the broken foot that ended his sophomore year in January. But prognostications and hype win teams nothing, and it will be imperative that McConnell and the other veterans make sure their young teammates have a clear understanding of that.