Parker Jackson-Cartwright has come off the bench in all four games since returning from a high ankle sprain, but the point guard could be returning to the Arizona Wildcats’ starting lineup in the near future.
“That could happen here soon,” head coach Sean Miller said Monday at his weekly press conference. “I’m more concerned about minutes. Parker played more minutes against Utah and Colorado than he played against Cal and Stanford. Looking at him playing those minutes, he was more able to play those minutes.
“He’s not at risk to get injured but…the conditioning element and him not being 100 percent, you want to make sure that he’s effective and you have his best interest. It’s like ramping him up and being smart with that.”
Jackson-Cartwright, who had eight points and six assists in 26 minutes against Colorado on Saturday, said he’s still experiencing some pain and still has some limitations the court.
“I wish, but that’s just not realistic,” the junior said when asked if he is 100 percent healthy. “The healing was sped up for sure, and it didn’t take the normal time that it takes to heal. ...But it’s getting close to 100 percent and it’ll take a little bit more time.”
Jackson-Cartwright is in the sixth week of recovery and his condition is expected to continue to improve as the days and weeks go on.
“(Athletic trainer) Justin (Kokoskie) and the doctors talked about that he’ll continue to grow, he’ll continue to get stronger and feel better from week four to six and that’s really what’s happened,” Miller said. “So hopefully he can have a great stretch of health because he’s an important part of our team.”
Jackson-Cartwright’s mobility has already improved notably since he returned on Dec. 30. In the games against Utah and Colorado, the point guard combined for 12 points and 15 assists with just two turnovers.
The week prior against the Bay Area schools, he combined for two points and 10 assists. His minutes also jumped from 42 to 52.
“Part of what Parker is banking on is the everyday practice,” Miller said. “That allows him to get reps, shoot the ball, and to cut, to run, to simulate a game. You probably the saw that the speed he played with the other day. There was a big difference, in my mind, at the four-week mark, and this past week was at the five-week mark. Here on Wednesday, he’ll be at the six-week mark, and when he first got injured, those types of injuries generally are six to eight weeks. He got back sooner.”
Before missing six games with a high ankle sprain, Jackson-Cartwright started in Arizona’s first seven games, averaging 8.0 points and 5.3 assists per contest during that stretch.
Kobi Simmons has been starting in Jackson-Cartwright’s place since, and the latter downplayed the significance of returning to the starting five.
“It really doesn’t mean that much,” Jackson-Cartwright said. “It’s obviously important but I like to win and if that means coming off the bench and helping my team contribute it’s fine. I just want to win.”
Starting Jackson-Cartwright might be in Arizona’s best interest, though. The Wildcats got off to two slow starts in their wins against Utah and Colorado. Would it have been different if Jackson-Cartwright was starting?
Maybe, but he downplayed that, too.
“They jumped on us early, but that happens,” the point guard said. “That happens in Pac-12 games. Any team is capable of doing that at any point. On the bench, you just observe and you try to come in and see what you can change. But that has no effect. The starters did a good job, it was just a slow start.”
Nonetheless, expect to see Jackson-Cartwright back in the starting lineup at some point.
“As we get to ASU, as long as the next three days go by smoother, that’ll be the healthiest that Parker’s been since his injury,” Miller said. “With that, he’s capable of playing more, he’s capable of playing really good, and there’s certainly a chance that we could put him back in the (starting) lineup.”
Jackson-Cartwright is averaging 6.4 points and 5.6 assists per game with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.9 this season.
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire