Arizona Wildcats forward Brandon Ashley is back and head coach Sean Miller is ready to see what the junior can do with the second-ranked Wildcats.
Miller and Ashley represented the Wildcats at the Pac-12′ Media Day on Thursday and cleared up any questions as to whether the power forward had recovered from his season-ending foot injury in February.
“At this point I’m 100 percent cleared. I’m out there doing everything with the team. I’m feeling pretty good at this point,” said Ashley, when asked about his health.
Miller reinforced Ashley’s importance to the team, saying his return impacts far more than the team’s abilities on the court.
“I think any time you’re faced with a season-ending injury of the magnitude it was, it allows you to have a maturity and perspective that you maybe couldn’t otherwise have,” said Miller. “Not only do we welcome him back as a basketball player, but I think we welcome him back as one of our team’s leaders and most experienced players.”
The power forward averaged 11.5 points and 5.8 rebounds in 22 games before he was injured last season.
Miller pointed out that the Wildcats were undefeated until Ashley injured his foot Feb. 1 in a road loss to Cal.
The return of the small forward is crucial to the Wildcats, but so are the other veterans who will be coming back from a team that won the Pac-12 regular season title and made it the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
Senior T.J. McConnell will return to the Wildcats’ starting backcourt, and 2014 marks the first time since he took over in Tucson that Miller will be coaching the same starting point guard in consecutive seasons.
“To have that experience at that position is something that I think any coach would love to have,” the coach said. “The biggest compliment you can give T.J. McConnell is he makes guys like Brandon better, makes the game easier for them. That’s what a true point guard does.”
McConnell averaged 8.4 points and 5.3 assists while starting every game for the Wildcats last season, his first in Arizona after two seasons at Duquesne.
“It’s nice to play with somebody that you’ve built a relationship with, that you have chemistry with on the court as well,” added Ashley. “He definitely knows how to run a team.”
Other than the returning stars, there are many flashy names from the highly-rated recruiting class for the Wildcats to show off, boasting three players from the 2014 ESPN 100 recruiting rankings.
But despite the big-name newcomers, Miller said that it is still up to the veterans to maintain the chemistry that made the team so successful in 2013-14.
“A year ago we had amazing team chemistry. I think that, more than anything, stands out when you reflect back on a year ago,” said Miller. “It’s up to guys like Brandon now, myself, to rekindle that.
“We find ourselves as we try to do it, it doesn’t happen in 12 days. It certainly doesn’t happen when you’re welcoming such a big group of new players into a cast that has a big group of guys that have been there before. I think part of it is the quest of bringing everyone to get, a big challenge for us at this point.”