Dylan Smith is one of five scholarship players that has been sidelined for the Arizona Wildcats this season.
But unlike the other four, Smith’s absence isn’t due to an injury or a suspension.
As a transfer from UNC Asheville, Smith is required by NCAA rules to sit out an entire season before he is eligible to play at Arizona.
Therefore, this season serves as an off year for the sophomore. That doesn’t mean he is taking it easy, though.
“There’s no free passes if you’re him,” head coach Sean Miller said. “Even in shootaround, we treat him as if he’s getting ready for a game. That’s what you learn in your year off. You have to learn our system and you have to find a way to become a better player.”
Smith averaged a team-best 13.5 points per game as a true freshman at UNC Asheville last season and Miller labeled him as one of Arizona’s best shooters.
The 6-foot-5 guard shot 34.9 percent from 3 and 82.2 percent from the line in his lone season with the Bulldogs.
Shooting is Smith’s strength, but where Miller would like to see the combo guard make strides is his physicality. Smith was listed at 170 pounds when he first arrived in Arizona.
“In Dylan’s case, a big part of (becoming a better player) is strength and conditioning,” Miller said. “He was very thin when he got here. He’s gained strength, he’s gained weight, and he still has the rest of the winter, spring, summer. By the time you see him next year in the Red-Blue game, he’ll look like a different person.”
The extra time in the weight room will undoubtedly help, and so will the reps Smith is getting in practice (when he’s not sitting out with a concussion).
NCAA rules prohibit Smith from playing in games, but they do not prevent him from practicing. Sometimes he — along with suspended guard Allonzo Trier — plays with the scout team to help the team prepare for upcoming opponents, but often times he plays in 5-on-5 drills with the rest of the scholarship players.
Miller believes the experience Smith is getting in Arizona’s system will prove to be invaluable a year from now.
The UA head coach used the Gonzaga Bulldogs as an example. The Zags, who beat Arizona earlier this season, start two transfers in Johnathan Williams and Nigel Williams-Goss that were in the same situation as Smith.
Both had to sit out a season, but they’ve looked like anything but newcomers when they finally had the chance to play. Miller thinks Smith will have that same type of comfort level next season.
“He gets quality reps every day,” Miller said. “And when (he’s) eligible a year from now, similar to a number of guys we played against with Gonzaga, they may be new, but they don’t feel like they’re new to Gonzaga because they’ve practiced with them for an entire year.
“Dylan will be an example of that next year.”
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