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Arizona basketball: Parker Jackson-Cartwright is emerging as the frontrunner to be the Wildcats' starting point guard

The departure of T.J. McConnell has a left a void at the starting point guard spot, and Parker Jackson-Cartwright appears to be the likely replacement.

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

In Parker Jackson-Cartwright's first year with the Arizona Wildcats, his role was simply to keep the offense afloat while T.J. McConnell got a breather. McConnell didn't want, nor require, many breathers, so Jackson-Cartwright's playing time was understandably limited.

He averaged 9.6 minutes per game, and in close games, it was even less than that. In the NCAA Tournament, for example, Jackson-Cartwright played a total of 24 minutes in four games, with 13 of them coming in the blowout of Texas Southern.

While Jackson-Cartwright didn't get a ton of playing time, when he was on the court, he showed he has the tools to be a starting-caliber point guard in the Pac-12. He could knife his way into the paint and finish over much taller defenders, he shot the ball well from the perimeter, hitting 9-23 of his three-point attempts (39.1%), and he proved to be an effective distributor, as he put up an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.61. The L.A. native also constantly looked to the push the ball up the court when given a chance, which helped create open looks in transition or semi-transition. That was one area where Jackson-Cartwright was arguably better than McConnell, and needless to say, that's invaluable for a team that often struggles to generate quality shots in the half-court.

So we know Parker Jackson-Cartwright can shoot, pass, and split the defense, but the main concern about him will always be his lack of size. He's listed at 5-10, but he's more like 5-7 or 5-8. He's also thin, as he weighed in the 150 pound range as a freshman. Having to guard the better point guards in the conference and the nation when you're not only shorter, but lighter than them, is not ideal. Obviously he can't control how tall he is, but he has put in a concerted effort to add weight to his frame since the end of last season.

"Parker has had a great offseason," Sean Miller said. "When you guys watched him play for us a year ago, he weighed in the 150’s. He’s always been a small guy, we knew that when he came here. But he’s really close to 170 now, so it’s amazing what 10-15 pounds of good weight means to someone like him."

Jackson-Cartwright's notable improvements put him in a position to make the patented "freshman to sophomore leap."

"I believe that everything he did well, he does better, and I think some of the things that we worried about, and needed to address, he’s made huge gains because he’s just physically stronger right now," Miller said.

Aside from the improvements, it's also important to not overlook the experience Jackson-Cartwright has. He was able to learn from first-hand from T.J. McConnell last season on what it takes to be a starting point guard in the Pac-12.

"I learned a lot from T.J. [McConnell]. His competitiveness, his passion, and his willingness to get the job done, and to play the right way, " Jackson-Cartwright said.

The others competing for the starting point spot, Miller mentioned, are Kadeem Allen, Justin Simon, and Gabe York. Allen and Simon have yet to play a game for the Wildcats, and York, is simply not a true point guard.

It seemingly makes Jackson-Cartwright the current frontrunner for the starting point guard spot.

But with a starting role comes infinitely more responsibility, especially as a point guard. Is he ready for that? As a freshman and a backup to an established player like T.J., Parker didn't have a whole lot on his plate last season. He came in for short spurts, and just had to keep things from derailing while McConnell sat out. Now that he may be the one running the show, he's had to work on becoming the leader of the offense.

"I would say floor awareness," Jackson-Cartwright said when asked what he has focused on this summer. "Really being the consummate floor general. [I want] to make sure everybody is in the right place, be more vocal, and just be more of an overall leader."

One important thing to consider in all of this, is that the coaching staff doesn't exactly know what they have right now. The team, due to NCAA rules, has been limited to just two hours of practice per week. So while Parker may seem like the best point guard right now, a lot can change between now and November.

On Sunday, the team will finally get to begin their normal practice schedule.

"Not until it’s 5-on-5, team practice, day in, day out, where you consistently see who they are everyday, that you truly know who is better than who, and the improvement starts to show," Miller said.

Miller ultimately expects to see a healthy, competitive battle between Jackson-Cartwright, Allen, Simon, and York for the starting point guard spot, as well as the primary backup spot.

"The cream will rise to the top there," he said. "That’s part of what we want to see over the next couple of months."

As it stands now, however, expect Parker Jackson-Cartwright to be starting for the Wildcats when the season starts on November 13th.