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Rawle Alkins set to return vs. Alabama

Alkins will come off the bench Saturday so long as there are no setbacks before then

California-Baker v Arizona Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

Barring any setbacks in practice the next two days, Rawle Alkins will debut for the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday vs. the Alabama Crimson Tide, head coach Sean Miller announced Thursday.

Alkins, out since late September with a broken foot, will come off the bench if he plays, Miller said.

“How much he plays, that remains to be seen,” said the UA head coach.

Alkins has practiced fully three times as of Thursday, and Miller brushed off the notion that Alkins’ absence had anything to do with the recruiting bribery scandal the school was implicated in in September.

Alkins, now 11 weeks into his recovery, is actually in better shape than he was prior to getting hurt, Miller said. His weight and body fat are both down.

“He’s 100 percent healthy, but is he going to be 100 percent the quality of player that he’ll eventually become? No, because he’s missed so much time,” Miller said. “Out of the 10-plus weeks that Rawle has been out, he was non-weight bearing for about six of those weeks. Forget basketball, he wasn’t even able to run. But over the last month he’s been able to do that and now that he’s able to practice, it’ll come back quickly.”

Alkins is expected to help an underperforming Arizona team in several ways, from shooting and distributing to rebounding and defending.

The 6-foot-5 wing averaged 10.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game as a freshman last season, while shooting 46.3 percent from the field and 37 percent from 3. He also rated as the team’s second-best defender.

“He gives us a physical presence at that position, both rebounding on defense and offense, defending whoever he defends and somebody who really has great understanding of how to pass the ball and make the simple play,” Miller said.

“One of the things, because of how he’s built, that you take for granted is he’s got a high basketball IQ. He knows how to make the right play, when to make the right play. He’s very, very unselfish with how he goes about playing the game. Those are things that any team would love to add. We’re certainly not different."

Arizona’s low effort level on defense has been one of the reasons for the team’s slow start, but Miller said last week that he knows Alkins is “part of the solution.”

“He’ll give us a boost. He knows what to do,” Miller said. “He walks in the gym 6-5, 220 (pounds). You’re not just going to knock him around. If anything he’ll knock you around and that’s one of the reasons he was so successful as a freshman, that physically he was ready to go. He’s that much bigger and stronger right now than he was a year ago, but he’s a much smarter player. A lot like you’re watching some of our younger players progress defensively, he’s already made that progression.”

Alkins’ decision to spurn the NBA Draft and return for his sophomore season was one of the main reasons Arizona was a preseason top-five team.

Without him, Arizona has used newcomers like Brandon Randolph, Dylan Smith, and Emmanuel Akot at small forward who had a rough start to the season (though Randolph and Smith have started to pick up their play of late).

“He brings toughness to our team, whether it’s rebounding, playing defense man-to-man ... he’s an overall player,” Dusan Ristic said of Alkins. “I can’t just say he’s good at one thing, he’s really good at doing multiple things on the court and that’s something that brings this year’s team a big advantage because obviously we have a lot of new faces, a lot of freshmen at his position.”

Saturday’s game against Alabama is scheduled for 8 p.m. MST and it will be broadcast on ESPN2.

Miller said it was probably difficult for Alkins to watch the start of the season from the sideline, but he believes the sophomore will shape into form in “no time.”

“Since he’s started to practice, you’ve noticed a spark in his eye,” Miller said. “I’m happy for him. ... He’s gone through a lot getting hurt when he did, so we’re excited to have him back.”

Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire