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Arizona guards Brandon Williams and Justin Coleman are an ‘unfair’ pairing

Photo by Simon Asher

The Arizona Wildcats’ closed scrimmages are always touted as highly-competitive affairs, but that can apparently change in a hurry by making one simple move: putting Justin Coleman and Brandon Williams on the same team, in the same backcourt.

“It’s fun,” Williams said. “I like playing with him and vice versa he likes playing with me. It’s kinda unfair when Coach (Sean Miller) puts us on the same team.”

Arizona hopes its opponents feel the same way when the regular season begins next month. The Wildcats need that tandem to be highly-productive this season if they are going to exceed expectations and/or return to the NCAA Tournament.

Coleman, a grad transfer from Samford, will be Arizona’s primary point guard and Williams, a highly-regarded freshman, will more than likely start alongside him at the 2, even though he was a lead guard — and a darn good one — at Crespi High School in California.

Miller has repeatedly said the 6-foot-2 Williams would have been a McDonald’s All-American had he not missed his junior season with knee surgery.

“I’m just a guy who can do a lot of things,” Williams said.

There are clear advantages to having two capable ball-handlers on the floor at once. Williams listed a few of them, such as: being able to cope with on-ball pressure, less stagnation on the perimeter, easier scoring opportunities for big men (via drive-and-dish or basic entry passes), and the ability to push the ball in transition.

“If I get the ball off a rebound, I might look for him,” Williams said. “We like to play at a fast pace.”

When Coleman is off the court, Williams will be asked to take over at point guard and keep the offense flowing.

“He’ll be able to play both positions day one,” Miller said.

Williams said it’s been challenging to learn two positions, especially since playing the point requires extensive knowledge of the playbook — “Coach has been tough on me on that,” he said — but Miller has lauded his freshman for being “very, very coachable.”

“I wouldn’t trade him for any guard that’s out there as an incoming freshman because he does it every day and he’s humble, a great teammate, and showed up here without any type of ego and I think it’s refreshing and it’s something that we really respect and appreciate,” Miller said.

Coleman, who’s appeared in 99 career games though none at Arizona, has helped Williams grasp the offense and nail down other intricacies like handling shot-clock scenarios and maneuvering around ball screens.

“He’s a fifth-year guy, I’m a first-year guy, so no matter if it’s an open run or scrimmages like we have today, he teaches me little things that I can get away with that not many people know of,” Williams said.

Despite the age gap, Coleman said Williams is “kinda like his best friend.” The two live near each other and often grab a bite to eat.

“I help him out with a lot of ... the growing pains that I went through,” Coleman said.

Williams returns the favor by using his versatile skill set to make Coleman’s job as point guard easier.

“He was a top-20 player in high school,” Coleman said. “He’s going to be really good.”

And Coleman believes his ability to distribute will only help Williams unlock his potential.

“It gives Brandon a chance to be himself,” Coleman said. “He’s going to be one of the better scorers to ever play here at Arizona.”

Who’s at the 3?

When Coleman and Williams are on the court together, Brandon Randolph, Dylan Smith or Emmanuel Akot are usually alongside them at the 3, Williams said.

Williams said Arizona’s three-guard lineups move the ball well and like to “go up the floor as fast as possible.”

“That’s easy points and Coach Miller loves those,” he said.

The Wildcats are typically a slow-it-down, grind-it-out type of team, but they may have no choice but to pick up the tempo this season given their personnel.

Then again, they’ll need to be well-conditioned to do that.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Coleman said. “We had a lot of guys that were winded (in the Red-Blue Game), maybe because of the depth, but today I feel like we’re in a lot better shape.”