Frosh make a splash at UA basketball Red-Blue game

It was a freshman that won the dunk contest Saturday at the annual Red-Blue game, the scrimmage that helps kick off a new men’s basketball season at University of Arizona.

Nick Johnson tossed an alley-oop pass to himself, then maneuvered it between his legs while still airborne before slamming it through the net for the contest win.

Johnson, who played part of his high school career at Highland High in Gilbert and was the No. 8 shooting-guard prospect in the country, was making a statement with that dunk that brought the sold-out crowd in McKale Center to its feet.

It was as if he was telling the crowd they can expect more from the much-heralded group of freshmen that made the 2011 recruiting class the best in the nation, according to most analysts.  And the fact that this year’s squad has already generated such a buzz is a sign that much is being expected of the Wildcats this season.  It’s been quite a few years since this scrimmage game has filled 14,601 seats in McKale, as it did Saturday.

And the youngsters didn’t disappoint.  The four freshmen that are expected to vie for playing time as early as this season put on a good showing as they combined for 49 points.

The group includes a couple of four-star recruits named Johnson, a likely one-and-done who is already projected as a high pick in the 2012 NBA draft next June, and a 6’9″ big man who some say may help the fans get over the loss of Derrick Williams, who left for the NBA after his sophomore season.

Nick Johnson scored 17 points, while Sidiki Johnson added 18 to pace the freshmen.  Sidiki, a 6’9″ forward from New York City, was 7-for-7 from the floor and 2-for-2 from behind the three-point line.

Josiah Turner, the first five-star recruit that head coach Sean Miller has pulled in during his coaching career, was busy handling the point-guard duties, getting the ball to his teammates.  And Angelo Chol, a 6’9″ power forward from California, was busy cleaning the boards.

Turner is expected to crack the starting line-up early in the schedule, and there are other roster spots still to be determined.  Miller said in an Arizona Republic article that he has just two players who he has already pulled in to start:  Solomon Hill, a 6’6″ junior forward, and senior guard, Kyle Fogg.

But there are a couple more upper-classmen that showed at the scrimmage they are ready to play this year.  Jesse Perry, a 6’7″ forward from St. Louis, led all scorers in the Red-Blue game with 20 points, while Brendon Lavender, a local boy from Mountain View High School in Mesa, also put up some points.  He and Fogg each had 15.

“We have a lot of young, new guys who are learning our program,” said Miller after the game, “and some of our returning players are learning new roles for this season.

“There were a lot of glimpses of good, but after only 16 days, there is still a lot that we have to work on in order to be ready for our first games.”

Expectations are high this year after the Cats made it all the way to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament and finished the 2010 season ranked No. 9 in the nation.

They lost Williams to the pro game and Mo Mo Jones, the starting point guard who was the secondary scoring option behind Williams, left the program to deal with family matters.

But leave it to Sean Miller, the consummate recruiter, to lose little time in filling those holes.  He just has to hope his young pups grow up quickly.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)