Arizona basketball preview: leadership a theme among team
When the No. 12 Arizona men's basketball team takes on Charleston Southern in McKale Center on Sunday at 4 p.m. for its season opener, the Wildcats will have two unquestioned leaders: Senior Solomon Hill, who has been the one constant on the Arizona roster since head coach Sean Miller arrived in Tucson four years ago, and fifth-year senior Mark Lyons, who transferred to the Wildcats with NCAA tournament appearances for every year spent at Xavier.
But there is another voice asking to be heard on the court, shouting orders and offering praise — that of sophomore Nick Johnson.
"I think it's great that Nick is really stepping up and taking a role as a leader, especially as a sophomore," Hill said. "It just adds to the respect that he gets from the teammates and from the younger guys, and everybody loves it. It's a part of the team that he's helping us build."
Miller has said that Johnson is one of the team's most vocal players, and while he might lack the experience of Lyons, the accolades of Hill (an All-Conference First Team member) or even the life experience of senior Kevin Parrom, Johnson has the personality to lead.
"I was a big leader last year as far as vocally, even though I was just a freshman," Johnson said. "Just coming in, we got a lot of new guys, a lot of new faces. So me playing a lot last year, even though I'm a sophomore, I just have to come in and show the younger guys how to do it."
This time around, though, Johnson has some on-court credentials to back up his leadership role. Johnson was fourth on the team in scoring and rebounding last season with 8.9 points per game and 3.3 boards. His 36.9 shooting percentage was a little low, as was his 32 three-point percentage, but he still did enough to earn a spot on the Pac-12 All-Freshman team.
Hill and Lyons may have seniority, but Hill feels Johnson brings an added element to the veteran leadership of a team that has a mix of both young and old.
"[Johnson] is a vocal guy," Hill said. "He's very passionate on the court. Me, I'm kind of different. I don't really talk as much as the game comes on … I let my engine do the talking. I just let my hard work go out there and show guys how it's done."
Hill's 12.9 points per game, team-high 7.7 rebounds and .500 percent shooting did plenty of talking last season, but it doesn't account for the vocal void Hill's methodical play creates. That lets the young sophomore fill the silence and take a leadership role without stepping on older players' toes.
"Solomon and Kevin, they both lead by example, so they're not as much talking," Johnson said. "So I think they accepted the fact that I'm more the vocal person on our team. It all helps."
Through Arizona's two preseason games, Hill, Lyons and Johnson have proven to be the Wildcats' most consistent players. While the two seniors have consistently put the ball in the basket, Johnson has contributed in ways other than scoring — though he averaged 10 points per game.
The sophomore shooting guard had five steals against Humboldt State and two blocks and two steals against Chico State, displaying a level of effort a leader should have even in exhibition games.
But no matter what Johnson does on the court, and how vocal he is on and off it, this is still Hill's team.
"Solomon Hill is our natural leader because he is the most experienced," Miller said. "He is returning All-Pac-12 player. He has led by example for many years in a quiet way because of his work ethic. He has a lot at stake in his last year. One person can't do it alone (though)."
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