Last year's freshmen class came in with high expectations and as a whole struggled to live up to them for large portions of the season. Perhaps nobody personified that notion more than Kaleb Tarczewski, the seven foot big man from St. Mark's who had Wildcats fans drooling at the prospect of a big man who wasn't...wait for it...perimeter-oriented. Throughout the final years of Lute Olson's tenure and each coach following the Wildcats lacked that big man who could bang down low and go to work on the glass repeatedly. From Channing Frye to Ivan Radenovic to Jesse Perry (Derrick Williams was more hybrid) the Wildcats were a turnstile for jump-shooting, athletic big men who lacked the physicality necessary to compliment the perimeter game.
Tarczewski was a guy who I spent most of the 2012-2013 season criticizing for his lack of an offensive presence. It was amazing to me a player of his size and supposed strength had no semblance of a post game and was all but useless for the first few months of the season on offense. Was it freshman jitters? Was it simply a case of the competition finally catching up to him? As an admitted non-follower of AAU or high school basketball I tried to wrap my brains around the fact THIS was the blue chip center that was going to give Arizona a prominent big man in the middle of a talented starting five. Yet for all his struggles Tarc seemed to come on in the last six weeks of the season playing some of his best basketball at a time the team needed it most. While his points per game or highlight reel may not reflect that, his impact for the Wildcats was more noticeable and made Arizona a more complete team.
With Grant Jerrett's departure you're seeing Brandon Ashley become the name everyone talks about from last year's trio and deservedly so. Ashley was the most impressive of the three freshmen last year and could be poised for a breakout year in his own right. However it begs the question, after an off season of over hyping Kaleb Tarczewski, could Zeus be getting slept on? Coach Sean Miller raved about Tarczewski this summer saying "He's added so many elements to his game. He's grown." It has been noted his frame has gotten even bigger given the workouts he's endured throughout the summer. On size alone he was a serviceable weapon at the end of the year. If he has indeed added to his game and developed any sort of fundamentally sound offensive moves, we could see the Kaleb Tarczewski many expected when he came to Tucson as the #4 recruit in the country a year ago.
With the backcourt the Wildcats possess heading into the 2013-2014 season along with the addition of freshman phenom Aaron Gordon, the Wildcats will be a talented perimeter team who gets out and runs. While it may not fit Kaleb's athleticism playing that way, he'll get plenty of chances in the half court and trailing the play to shine. Perhaps the most encouraging thing for Tarczewski is there will be no pressure to carry offense this season and he can just blend in and contribute when called upon. The Wildcats will be very tough in 2013-2014 and should be a second weekend team whether Tarczewski progresses into what I think he can be or disappoints again. However if the Wildcats can get even a marginally improved season from their seven foot big man you could be looking at the difference maker in a national championship contender or Sweet 16 team. If you told me eight-nine months ago I'd be saying that I'd have never believed it.