Wildcats coach Tommy Lloyd expects a competitive, balanced team

Sep 29, 2021, 3:43 PM
Gonzaga assistant coach Tommy Lloyd looks on during the college basketball game between the Gonzaga...
Gonzaga assistant coach Tommy Lloyd looks on during the college basketball game between the Gonzaga Bulldogs and the Pepperdine Waves on January 30, 2021 at the Firestone Fieldhouse in Malibu, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
(Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

An NCAA infractions investigation into the Arizona men’s basketball program lingers as the team prepares to tip off its preseason with a public Red-Blue scrimmage on Saturday.

First-year Wildcats head coach Tommy Lloyd told reporters in Tucson on Monday that he expects the conclusion of the NCAA’s process to conclude by “next year at this time.”

For now, the best and fastest way to move on is for the Wildcats to win on the court.

And Lloyd, who spent the last two decades as an assistant with the Gonzaga Bulldogs, believes the best way to win is to play fast — which is easier said than done.

“I feel like we have a team that can be really competitive,” Lloyd told reporters.

“My focus is going to make sure that when we’re on that court, we look and feel like an Arizona basketball team,” he added. “That’s where I’m spending my time right now. The marketing stuff will come. We’re not trying to move mountains on Twitter.”

So what will fast, efficient Tommy Lloyd basketball look like?

A good place to start is with what we know.

Arizona’s roster remains relatively well-stocked with talent from a Sean Miller-coached team that went 17-9 last year and did not participate in the postseason due to a one-year school-imposed ban.

Forward Azuolas Tubelis and Bennedict Mathurin, who are in their second college seasons, are expected to be the primary offensive weapons.

“I want efficient players,” Lloyd said of the duo. “That’s what I want. … They’re really talented, and I expect them to be at the forefront of everything we do. They’re also great team players, not selfish, so I think there’ll probably be days they’re dominant, there’ll be days they blend in a little bit.”

The 6-foot-11 Tubelis averaged 12.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game as a freshman, and Lloyd said he expects the forward to improve imposing his physical will on opponents. The coach is hopeful the forward continues cleaning up some of the smaller things — perimeter defense among them.

Mathurin averaged 10.8 points and 4.8 rebounds last year, and his 42% shooting put him on the pro radar before he opted to return as one of the youngest players in his 2020 recruiting class.

Who might be leading the offense? Lloyd said fellow returning freshman Kerr Kriisa is in line to assume the starting point guard position, with others splitting initiation duties behind him.

Shot-blocking 7-footer Christian Koloko should have a sizeable role on the team and has all-conference potential, Lloyd added. The head coach said versatile wing Dalen Terry, who played every game with 14 starts as a freshman last year, is a “joy” to coach and has reworked his jumper.

The bulk of that core group has experience but plenty of eligibility remaining. For Lloyd, whose resume at Gonzaga was all about player development over several college seasons, that’s a fun place for his team to be at.

“It was a lot of learning on the job (in the past). Now they’ve built up those reps and have a little bit of understanding of what it takes,” Lloyd said. “They’re in the sweet spot of learning where they have experience with talent, and we’re trying to add motivation and discipline.”

Along with those returning players, the team will welcome two transfers — Oumar Ballo (Gonzaga) and Pelle Larsson (Utah) — plus freshmen guards Shane Nowell and Adama Bal.

Here’s what else Lloyd revealed during his first preseason press conference:

— The Wildcats will carry the same uniforms from last season into 2021-22, but the head coach revealed they will have a redesign coming in 2022-23.

— Lloyd said that, months ago, he sat down with Miller, who was let go amid the NCAA scandal, to discuss this year’s team. The new UA coach said it was a positive meeting.

— Lloyd on the NCAA investigation and how he handles it while recruiting: “Honest — be honest. I don’t know if there’s framing or whatever. Just honest is where we’re at and explain to them what that means.”

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Wildcats coach Tommy Lloyd expects a competitive, balanced team