Sean Miller is still trying to break in some new colts from a corral full of studs he picked up in the 2011 recruiting class. And tonight he may have a chance to see if the schooling has begun to take effect.
The University of Arizona head basketball coach began the season with a top-10 recruiting class and would like to begin giving some of them more playing time. But, along with talent, other issues often arise – especially among high school ‘all-stars’ trying to adapt to the college game and a new diminished role.
Sidiki Johnson, a 6’8″ power forward from New York, has been suspended for a violation of team policy. He stayed on an extra week in the Big Apple following the Wildcats’ participation in the 2K Sports Classic held there. He’s back on campus, but has not rejoined the team and it’s beginning to look unlikely that he will anytime soon, if ever.
(*Update: It looks like Johnson, who has a history throughout high school of frequently changing schools , is continuing to follow that pattern. According to a 11/4 release from the university, Johnson “has left the program with the intention of transferring to another institution.”)
From a statistical standpoint, his loss won’t cause too many ripples. He played little this season, a total of just seven minutes on the floor, and averaged 0.3 points per game.
Even Josiah Turner, Miller’s first-ever 5-star recruit, had to be disciplined for being late to the shoot-around before the Nov. 9 Duquesne game. He didn’t start the last game against San Diego State, which the Cats dropped, 61-57, for their second straight loss.
But tonight against New Mexico State, Miller has indicated there will be a new starting line-up on the floor – and that group could include a trio of freshmen. The third-year head coach has been starting all returners from last season, including a couple of seniors in Kyle Fogg and Jesse Perry; juniors Solomon Hill and Kyryl Natyazhko; and sophomore Jordin Mayes.
That group hasn’t been able to stop the slide, as the Cats, which were ranked No. 16 coming into the season, fell from the national rankings after the loss to San Diego State.
The Cats (4-2) were overwhelmed by SDSU in the first half as the Aztecs jumped out to a 21-4 lead and held on for the win – which also ended a 22-game win streak at McKale Center.
There’s a good possibility that tonight’s starting line-up could include Turner and Nick Johnson in the back court. Johnson, a 6’3″ shooting guard who spent a couple of years at Highland High School in Gilbert, is averaging almost 10 points a game coming off the bench. He was ranked No. 8 nationally at his position coming out of Findlay Prep in Nevada.
And we could see Angelo Chol, a 6’9″ shot-blocking forward from San Diego, under the rim. Chol, who ranked second in the country for his shot blocking last year, also scored 2,133 points during his prep career and is the No. 2 all-time rebounder in California high school history.
If the youngsters get their chance tonight, they will have their work cut out for them. The Aggies are 5-1 and have pretty much owned the Wildcat program when playing in Las Cruces, which is the case tonight. The Cats have lost their last four games in Las Cruces and haven’t won there since 1963.
New Mexico State is averaging 78.5 points a game and is coming off an 81-71 win over San Francisco. Four Aggies are averaging in double figures so far this year.
The Aggies are also beating their opponents on the board, enjoying an 8.3 rebound advantage. So the addition of Chol might be a good idea right about now – although Arizona holds a +4 rebounding margin through six games.
Arizona won last year’s meeting in Tucson, 83-57. But this one’s across the border, and that changes everything.
Could be an interesting road trip… especially for the new kids.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)