Heading into last season, one thing caught a lot of Arizona Wildcats fans off guard, and that was the redshirting of Kadeem Allen.
Allen had transferred to Arizona from JuCo powerhouse Hutchinson Community College. He was coming off being named the National Junior College Player of the Year, averaging 25.9 points in his sophomore campaign, which was second in the nation. He also had the first two triple-doubles in program history, and set a new school single-season record with 13 30+ point games.
But then came exhibition season, and Allen didn't see the floor for the Wildcats. Sean Miller then came out after that first preseason game and announced they were going to redshirt their new guard.
"I knew I wasn't going to play last year around the exhibition game," Arizona's guard explained. "It really hit me, and (Miller and I) really sat down and talked about it, and it came out to be great."
"Playing-wise from last year to this year is like two completely different things," he continued. "Being on that team with the players we had last year was a good thing for me to sit out."
He didn't think it was going to be a great thing at the start though.
"At the beginning, I was a little frustrated and shocked really, because I had to sit out of games of what I really love to do," Allen said. "I wasn't really looking at the big picture then. But now when you look at the big picture, everything is how I really wanted it to be when I first came in."
This not only set Kadeem up for another year to get better at basketball, but also put him more on track to get his degree.
"Off the court, Kadeem's goal coming here was to graduate from the University of Arizona, and that would be a huge step considering where he's come from," Miller said. "He really learned, and how to be a better student, and he has a year under his belt where he's clearly moved in the right direction towards graduating. It's very difficult to leave junior college, hit the ground running, and then in two quick years, get the degree."
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"It was big," Kadeem tacked on. "Transferring from a junior college to a four-year university is totally different then some of the freshmen you see coming in from high school. For me personally, it was really hard, and I got the hang of things now so it's good and it's going great."
Even though he didn't play, the JuCo transfer did travel with the team, giving him a taste of what Pac-12 basketball is all about.
"He knows what the Pac-12 feels like, and he knows what a practice at Arizona is like," coach continued. "He's way more familiar with our system than he would have been if he had played last year. And the good news is we have him for two years now instead of just one."
"The biggest benefit for me redshirting last year was being able to learn the system," Allen added. "Being able to see the atmosphere on the road. Learning all the plays. Getting stronger in the weight room. Really learning what it takes to be a great player in the Arizona program."
"I'll probably say Utah," he said when asked about what the craziest road environment he encountered last year. "Utah was crazy. It was loud. The atmosphere was unbelievable. They tried to scare us out, but we pulled through, played as a team, and got it done."
One guy that Allen spent the season with was Ryan Anderson, the transfer from Boston College. Anderson has now set school records in the weight room, and Allen has gotten stronger physically as well, despite suffering a shoulder injury.
"Everyone's stronger and faster," Kadeem said about the biggest hurdle he faced transferring to Arizona. "Gained a couple pounds, and just getting better and stronger and just getting after it."
"Me and him are really close," Anderson explained of the two's relationship. "Anytime you're away from something like that you really love to do, it's tough. But when you have another guy going through the same thing as you, it makes it a little bit better. We were always on the scout team together in practice, pushing the starters to get better. We got a lot of reps together as a combo, and there's a lot of players that I haven't had a chance to get with, so I think we have a great combo, and I can't wait to play with him for real."
"People are underestimating how good he really is."
The strength about Kadeem's game that's a common theme around the rest of the team is his defense.
"(I went against him) every day and it was really tough," said Parker Jackson-Cartwright. "Even last year, he was one of our better guards, so it's going to be really interesting playing alongside him. Defensively, he's just so long. He can alter your shot, get in your stance and get after the ball. And offensively, he's strong. He attacks the rim really hard and he can shoot it."
"Kadeem Allen is great," Justin Simon added. "He's making me better and I'm making him better, because we're both kind of the same player, even though he's a little smaller than me."
"I feel like he can be a big leader for us this year," Simon continued. "He's a great guy. I love him. And I feel like me and him on the floor together, that's a lot of length. He has a long wingspan as well, and Kadeem gets after it."
"So a lot of great things coming this year."