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With influx of talent, Arizona finally has depth in its frontcourt

This story is courtesy of the Arizona Daily Wildcat

The difference in Arizona’s 2010 Elite Eight run and last season’s first round NIT loss to Bucknell was plain to see.

“Height,” senior UA forward Solomon Hill said at the end of August. “Last year we didn’t get big guys out the game.”

The size, or lack thereof in last year’s team, was evident with a 6-foot-7 ‘center’ in Jesse Perry and Hill, who stands at 6-foot-6, out of position playing power forward. The overall lack of size hurt the Wildcats, but not as much as the lack of depth in bigs.

Thanks to freshmen big men Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett and Brandon Ashley, who all stand at 6-foot-8 or taller, both the size and depth problem appears to have been remedied. On Wednesday, the Wildcats held a “big men” practice open to the media which included the aforementioned freshman plus sophomore big Angelo Chol.

Thanks to a new NCAA rule that allows college basketball coaches to work with their players in the summer in small groups, all four freshmen in this year’s recruiting class have been working with head coach Sean Miller on offense, defense and overall skill development.

“Depth inside is what we all want to have and we have that,” Miller said. “The analogy during football season is it’s the offensive and defensive lines that not only have starters who are big, but you have guys coming in throughout the game that keep you big and strong.

“We want to have that for us from a basketball perspective. Foul trouble, injuries, long season, we have a group of those guys who will do a great job for us. If you look at our team a year ago, not only didn’t we have a group, we were just small to begin with.”

The only frontcourt player the Wildcats had in position was the 6-foot-9 Chol, who was “raw” in his abilities according to Miller, but this summer Chol has put on noticeable amount of muscle mass which gives Miller four options to use when trying to battle bigger teams like UCLA.

“Angelo is more focused,” Hill said. “You’re able to see his body mature. He’s more relaxed; we kind of threw him into the fire. He understands his role, he’s comfortable.”

As for the freshmen, Tarczewski and Ashley have been working with UA coaches since the beginning of June while taking summer school classes, almost a month earlier than Jerrett, who did not move to Tucson until after July 4.

So far, the difference in ability and know-how as it relates to when players showed up has been noticeable.

“That may not seem like a lot, but if you ask me at the end of August, he’s (Jerrett) almost been here half the time of the other two,” Miller said. “Each one of them will continue to progress. The good news is we’re still in early September. If you think about it, we’re still almost two months away from even getting close to games.”

Basketball season may not officially tip off until November, but in addition to the amount of size the Wildcats have added, fans can look forward to the versatility of players like Jerrett, who Hill says he would “look for in a drive and kick.”

“Grant is very skilled,” Hill added. “I wasn’t expecting a three-point shot like he has. It adds another level to his game.”

In Wednesday’s workout, Jerrett hit 18 of his 26 outside jump shots. That, in addition to his low post abilities, will add another wrinkle to Arizona’s fast-paced offense.

“This year’s team, it’s obviously very early, but we have a good mix,” Miller said. “We have the influx of talent, especially size, but we have some returning guys who are hungry to finish their careers off the right way.”