What are Ryan Luther’s strengths as a player? Well, let’s just start right there — his strength.
A graduate transfer from Pittsburgh, Luther recently bench-pressed 185 pounds 25 times, breaking the Arizona Wildcats’ record previously held by Talbott Denny.
“So we’re welcoming in a new player that I think can bring some things to the table to help us,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said of the fifth-year senior. “Strength and experience.”
Shooting, too. The 6-foot-9 forward was a career 41.5 percent 3-point marksman in four seasons with the Panthers. He has impressed his new UA teammates in drills, too.
“I’ve seen him hit damn near 60 threes in a row,” said forward Ira Lee.
“He’s up there with some of the best shooters I’ve seen,” added center Chase Jeter. “I think Luke Kennard is probably the best shooter I’ve been around and Ryan Luther’s up there with him.”
Fittingly, Kennard, Jeter’s former teammate at Duke, shot 41.5 percent from 3 in his rookie year with the Detroit Pistons last season.
“Chase is a nice guy for saying that,” Luther joked. “I don’t know, we’ll see.”
Regardless, Luther appears to be an ideal fit alongside Jeter and Lee as a stretch 4. But the Wildcats are lacking frontcourt depth, so Luther expects to play some at the 5 as well.
UA point guard Justin Coleman is excited about that.
“(Our spacing is) going to be crazy because he’s one of the best shooters on the team,” Coleman said. “So it’s going to be hard for the other team to guard us.”
Of course, Arizona’s small-ball lineups have to play defense too and going too small means leaving yourself vulnerable in the paint. But Luther believes his post defense is one of the underrated parts of his game. He had seven blocks in 10 games last year.
“I think I pride myself on that the most,” he said.
Coleman looks at Luther’s stat line last season as proof he can handle the 5.
“He averaged 13 and 10, so I’m pretty sure he can hold his own down there,” he joked.
Another thing Luther is expected to add: leadership. That might sound strange since he just joined the program a few months ago, but he is just one of two seniors on the roster and has experience playing in a major conference, something several Wildcats don’t.
“When you’re around someone like Ryan, you understand that he’s not 18 years old, that he’s been through practices, he’s received criticism, he’s been coached, he’s seen the highs and the lows of college sports,” Miller said. “That will be helpful.”
Maybe the only thing that can prevent Luther from being an impact player is his health. He missed all but 10 games last season with a broken foot and several more the season before because of a similar ailment.
Last season’s injury was particularly devastating because Luther was playing the best basketball of his career, averaging a double-double.
“If he wouldn’t have gotten injured (last year), he was potentially on his way to being an all-conference player,” Miller said.
Then again, if he wouldn’t have gotten injured, he wouldn’t have a chance to play at Arizona.
“When I visited here I kind of knew I wanted to come here,” said Luther. “With a program like Arizona, and the opportunity I could have, I couldn’t pass it up. I’m going to do whatever I can to help this team win.”
That Miller is a Pittsburgh legend did have some weight in Luther’s decision to head to Arizona. Luther said Miller’s name is still big in that part of the country.
“I’m not sure if I had met Coach Miller before but I knew his brother and we knew some of the same people, both coming from Pittsburgh,” Luther said. “So there was some type of familiarity. We had that (Pittsburgh) in common. That was our first connection.”
It was more about the opportunity to play at the UA, though.
“You can’t ask for a better program, more support,” Luther said. “I knew that, in Coach Miller’s offense, the forwards had a good opportunity to show their skills.”
“Good to go”
Luther said he is “100 percent” recovered from his broken foot and “good to go” for the upcoming season.
Miller said there are currently no plans to limit Luther, and the big man has dropped his body fat under 10 percent to help avoid another injury and be better equipped to play big minutes.
“No, I mean we’re not really trying to encourage them to take it easy,” Miller said. “We’re just trying to be as smart as we can. We don’t have a lot of depth up front. It’s one of the big differences coaching this year’s team.
“That’s been one of the strengths of our team and as we’ve sustained different injuries, we’ve always had a lot of front court depth and versatility. This year that’s what you worry about, both in foul trouble and injuries. But we’re going to be as smart as we can and prepare those guys as best we can.”