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Arizona basketball: Justin Simon could play small, crucial role for Wildcats

With Elliott Pitts out for an indefinite amount of time, the freshman wing could work his way into more minutes

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

In a year of new, young faces getting a lot of run for the Arizona Wildcats, one guy that has been sort of limited with his minutes is Justin Simon.

So far in ten appearances, the freshman Simon is averaging just over seven minutes per contest, but is scoring two points and 1.4 rebounds in those seven minutes.

"I've been pleased with Justin so far," Sean Miller said when asked about Simon's development.

But Miller knows that he needs to be clear and honest with a guy like Simon, who had so much success in high school, and is now fighting for precious minutes at the college level.

"I've talked to him a lot here since we've returned back from Christmas," coach continued. "When you're a decorated high school player, you envision yourself getting into college, you think about playing a lot and having a huge role. And sometimes when that's not in place right away, you can lose your confidence, or get down, or wonder if the coaching staff still believes in you. It's just human nature because of the way our game is."

"But we really believe in Justin. The things that he does in practice, it's just a matter of time before it translates. I think he has an incredibly bright future here."

With the unknown status of Elliott Pitts as the calendar turns to 2016, there's a chance that Simon could end up filling a major void, especially on the defensive end.

"I think defensively is where he's playing his minutes," Gabe York said about the freshman. "He's a great defender. Very long and quick on his feet. At 6'4" or 6'5" with almost a seven-foot wingspan, he's able to deflect passes and block shots that some of us guards aren't able to get. I think that's sort of where he's made his role for this year."

"He's not getting a lot of playing time," York added. "But the minutes he is playing, he is producing for our team. If any more injuries happen, which we hope doesn't happen, I think he'll be ready to step in to a bigger role."

"He could continue to take it and grow," Miller said about Simon's potential role in Pac-12 play. "Obviously, we have a number of veteran, talented perimeter players that are playing right now, but there's a place for Justin. He makes a lot of good things happen and he's really consistent. He's one of the few guys on our team that has not missed one practice, or one skill, or anything since the first day of school, and I think that's a testament to how hard he works."

If he continues to work hard with Pitts on the sidelines, and shows his stuff in games, maybe Simon will be the difference between a Pac-12 title and falling short.

"He has an opportunity that's kind of sitting there in front of him, and it's up to him to be able to take it."

"A lot of times, a young player like Justin could be the difference between us breaking through or not."