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Miller, Wildcats turning to handful of new players in 2019-20 season

Arizona coach Sean Miller speaks during the Pac-12 NCAA college basketball media day in San Francisco, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/D. Ross Cameron)

The Arizona Wildcats enter the 2019-20 season with a lot of new faces on the roster, hoping to turn the page on last season’s woes.

After winning at least 12 conference games in every season since 2010-11, the Wildcats finished last year with a sub-.500 record at 8-10 (17-15 overall). A big reason for the dropoff was the team’s defense, which went from one of the top units just a few seasons ago to one that didn’t provide that lockdown ability.

But this is a new season full of expectations for head coach Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

“We’re finally excited to tip off a brand new season,” Miller said at the Pac-12 media day on Tuesday. “No different than in previous season we have a lot of new players this year. We happen to have eight new players so regardless of what happened a year ago, very few of this year’s team were a part of it.

“Of the new players, we have four freshmen and then we really have a solid group of transfers, a couple who’ll be eligible immediately. Really looking forward to blending the entire group together.”

Joining Miller at the media event were freshmen guards Nico Mannion and Josh Green, two players the head coach sees as contributors right away.

Mannion heads to Arizona after an impressive high school career at Pinnacle, where he helped lead the team to back-to-back Class 6A titles and averaged 30.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 6.2 assists last season. Green, a Sydney, Australia, native, comes over after spending his high school days at the IMG Academy in Florida.

“Both are freshmen, but we don’t really look at them as freshmen. Those guys are really seasoned,” Miller said. “They’re going to be a big part of what we do and both are tremendous kids. great kids, come from great families and we’re excited to have them be a part of our program.”

The five-star guards out of high school aren’t the only freshmen joining the team. In addition to the duo, Arizona has center Christian Koloko and power forward Zeke Nnaji on the roster.

The added freshmen might cause other squads grief as they find their footing at the next level, but Miller believes he has the type of youngsters with the right mindset to push the envelope and earn meaningful playing time.

“I think the first thing you want from the most highly regarded incoming freshmen is that they’re coachable, that they don’t think that they have all the answers and they’re not just at Arizona to reach their own individual goals,” Miller said. “That they came here to be a part of a team and to compete for championships and win, and also that they recognize that they have things they need to do better and work at.

“That’s why they came to college and hopefully that’s one big reason they picked our program. That they feel they can grow and develop.”

Defensively, Miller sees the play of redshirt senior guard Dylan Smith as a key factor in bringing the program back to what it was not too long ago.

“Dylan’s one of those rare players in college basketball. He’s a senior number one, but he’s also contributed to a number of teams that he’s been a part of. He’s an older guy that works very hard. I think he’s one of our team’s best perimeter defenders … and he’s part of the solution [on defense] I believe moving forward this season.”

For Miller, getting back to being a stingy defensive team will give the team the best chance at winning games. Especially in February and March, when the games get tougher.

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