On Thursday afternoon, Arizona Wildcats head coach Sean Miller sat down to talk about the upcoming season. You would have thought he was talking about the 302nd ranked team in the country, not the team heading into the season as No. 2 on most polls.
"Realistically, we're not that good of team right now," Miller opened up with. "We're nowhere near where we would like to be. We're just not. And I can see us getting off to a rocky start in the month of November, especially with Maui and a couple of the games we have."
Is this Sean Miller just trying to send a message to his team? Probably. But they're listening.
"We haven't done the best job of having a lot of leadership in practice," junior guard Gabe York said. "I think the older guys are trying to focus so hard (on helping the new guys), that we're losing sort of the team aspect and having to talk in practice."
"There's a lot of stuff we still need to be better at, but it really doesn't feel like we look like the No. 2 team in the country," York continued. "A lot of stuff we need to work on and improve by getting better every day in practice. Even the vocal aspect of it. We're a very quiet team, and that hasn't really happened since I've been here, and that falls on the veteran guys, myself included. We have to be better as a whole every day in practice. We're getting better, but there's still a huge jump we have to make."
"It's just a new team," added Matt Korcheck. "It's almost like a new start every year, trying to figure out who's going to play what role."
There was a little bit of a positive outlook from coach as he continued to talk about where this team is and what it might become.
"We have some depth, and some of our newer players are only going to get better as time goes on," Miller stated. "And hopefully our team chemistry and identity starts to form as we enter conference play and I'll feel much much better than where I feel today."
And then more gloom.
"But I don't know if I've had any person who entered our gym through the first 24 or 25 practices and tell me that we're a good team. I've probably had as many as 30 people tell me that we're either a) not as good as everyone said we were or that they can certainly see that we have the makings of something down the road, but we're nowhere near where the preseason publications have us."
"We're just not that good right now. Where we're ranked right now is the top of the mountain, and we're not that team. We have a long way to go. I'm disappointed with a lot of things. It's hard for us to practice. We're not a very vocal team. Our gym is very quiet, and I think our leadership is a work in progress, and I think our younger players, even though they are trying very hard, have a long way to go.
"Everything concerns me...It reminds me a lot of my first year (at Arizona)."
Even with all of this concern, two players have done their part to separate themselves from the rest in the coaches' eyes so far this school year.
"Our two most consistent players have been Kaleb Tarczewski and T.J. McConnell," coach explained. "We give gold jerseys out for the best practice players through a five, six, seven day stretch. Everything's categorized and kept as a statistic so it's not like a coaches' vote. And I think Kaleb's won it twice and T.J.'s won it twice. No one's really threatened either of those guys as far as earning a gold jersey. But I've been pleasantly surprised with both guys in their level of play and I think both of them are better players than they were last year."
A third guy that might be in the mix for those gold jerseys had it not been for his injury last year is Brandon Ashley, who continues to try and work his way back from the broken foot he suffered against Cal.
"In fairness to Brandon Ashley, when you haven't played basketball for that long, Brandon is working his way back," coach said of his player. "I think he's really on track. He's healthy, it's great to have him out there, he's one of our team's more vocal players, and it just seems like every day he gets a little more sure of himself."
A huge part of the team's poor impression on coach has been the losses of Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon to the NBA Draft.
"Losing Nick Johnson and his defense and leadership, it's like we're missing three players," continued Miller. "And Aaron Gordon, he's just such an excellent rebounder and defensive player and energy guy, that those two guys, no matter what team they left, you would feel their void. And we really feel it right now. More so than I thought, but we have to find some solutions to figure out who's going to rise up. And hopefully over the next month, especially as we start playing other teams, we find some solutions."
Arizona will get to start looking for those solutions while playing other teams Sunday afternoon at 4 PM MST with an exhibition game against Cal Poly Pomona in the renovated McKale Center. Games that count start Friday the 14th against Mount St. Mary's.