Ray Smith to be fully cleared for start of practice

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Arizona will one again be a contender for the Pac-12 crown alongside Oregon, the other preseason favorite.

The status of redshirt forward Ray Smith could play a major role in how that conference race unfolds this season. Smith is coming off the second of two ACL tears (one in each knee) since 2014, but Arizona head coach Sean Miller told Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports on Monday morning that the 6-foot-8 combo forward will be a full participant in practice when the preseason begins in a few weeks.

However, with Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey both electing to remain at Oregon — and Arizona’s five-star recruit, Terrance Ferguson, opting to play in Australia this season — it appears that even though the Wildcats will still be hunting down the Ducks to reclaim the top spot in the conference standings.

Arizona, despite losing Ferguson as a 3-point option and versatile defender, remains loaded on the perimeter with returners Allonzo Trier, Kadeem Allen and five-star recruits Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons. Smith, part of a frontline that includes Dusan Ristic, Chance Comanche and newcomer Lauri Markkanen, can compliment the guard play with his versatility on the frontline, a skillset that allows him to play either forward position. Even without playing a game, Smith’s earned high praise from Miller last fall.

“Ray Smith is one of the most talented young players that has ever entered our program,” he said in a statement last October when he announced Smith’s season-ending injury.

Missing two years of competitive basketball is a steep hill to climb, but if healthy, the former five-star recruit has the potential to be one of the more impactful first-year players in the nation this season.

Arizona opens the season on Nov. 11 against Michigan State in the 2016 Armed Forces Classic in Honolulu.