We talked about the Arizona Wildcats’ freshmen who have had some issues. It’s only fair (and a lot more fun) to also talk about the one who is having zero problems at all.
Nick Johnson is the reason you do want to keep recruiting elite players.
It’s worth going after players with a lot of hype because when they work out they end up being really good, and really good is what you need to build toward greatness.
Two positions on what we hope will be a championship-level team next year are set. The small forward minutes will be handled quite well by Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom. The shooting guard will be Mr. Nick Johnson.
Johnson has played in all 10 games this year and started the last four. He’s 4th on the team in scoring, 3rd in 3-point shooting, 2nd in assists and 1st in “Ooooooooohhhh!” moments.
And it looks like he’s always having fun out there. Imagine that.
It’s refreshing to see a player willing to play whatever position his team needs. There’s a temptation for undersized guys to insist on playing point guard. When 6-foot-3 Jerryd Bayless came to Arizona in 2007 he wanted to run the point in preparation for the NBA. As a result junior Nic Wise came off the bench half the year.
(By the way, what if Bayless had been willing to dominate as a college 2-guard for two years? Imagine him, Wise, Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger bolstered by the casual magic of Russ Pennell in 2009. Rick Pitino would want no part of that.)
Nick Johnson is choosing the path that got Gilbert Arenas to the NBA. Arenas played off the ball in college, scored a lot of points, won a lot of games and let the pros worry about where he was going to play.
(You hope that’s where the comparison ends. Arenas may have played the point in the NBA but he maintained his shooting guard tendencies.)
Arizona is known as Point Guard U but the other guy in the backcourt has been crucial on the Cats’ Final Four teams. Small forward Sean Elliott was all-everything in 1988 but Khalid Reeves was the leading scorer on the ’94 team, Arenas was the leading scorer on the 2001 team and, of course, there’s Simon Says Championship in 1997.
Can Nick Johnson be that kind of scorer at Arizona? Where he ends up remains to be seen but it’s safe to say Johnson will be smiling when he gets there.
* * *
Josiah Turner’s second (unofficial) suspension ended after just one game. It was good to see him playing with energy and no signs of pouting against Clemson, and it was great to hear he still has his coach’s support.
Getting suspended is never a good idea in and of itself but it’s doubly negative because Turner needs the court time to improve his game. Cut down on the turnovers, get more consistent with his shot, improve on defense and (perhaps most importantly) perfect the timing on sick alley-oop lobs to Johnson. Highlight reel and mixtape makers everywhere are depending on it.
* * *
The Cats are in the middle of a six-day break between games but this Saturday’s contest with Gonzaga in Seattle features the worst possible matchup for the UA: a quality big man.
Mississippi State’s 6-11 Arnett Moultre had 19 points and 10 rebounds to beat Arizona. Florida won behind 6-9 Patric Young’s 25 and 10. So it’s not a good sign that Gonzaga is led by 7-footer Robert Sacre. The senior from Canada has scored at least 15 points in every game this year while averaging seven rebounds and shooting 79% from the foul line.
It’s certainly a tall task but it’s the type of game the Wildcats need in order to figure out how best to use their small lineup against size, and when to sprinkle in Angelo Chol and Kyryl Natyazhko.
Nick Johnson and friends will have their dunking work cut out for them.
– – – – –