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Dusan Ristic’s career path sets example for future Arizona Wildcats

The 7-footer has come a long, long way since his freshman season

USC v Arizona Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

One of the best parts about college sports is watching a player develop from their freshman season to their senior season — seeing just how much their game expands, their physique changes, and their personalities mature.

Solomon Hill is the Arizona Wildcats’ best example of how far a player can come.

Hill averaged 6.7 points per game as a freshman, but his scoring average improved every season as did the other parts of his game.

Eventually, Hill turned himself into a first round NBA Draft pick, then a $48 million player.

“Solomon Hill is the litmus test for guys that come here and stay with it and improve and go on to do great things,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said.

Hill is about to have some company on that list in Dusan Ristic.

The 7-footer’s progression at Arizona has been just as striking.

The former three-star recruit from Serbia went from a sparsely-used backup, who averaged 3.4 points and 2.1 rebounds a game as freshman, to a two-year starter who now averages 11.8 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, while shooting 59 percent from the field, as a senior.

All while having to learn a new language and becoming the team’s “heart and soul” as Miller called it.

“I just think Dusan has become an all-conference player,” Miller said. “Statistically, there’s no denying that.”

Miller also threw Ristic’s name out there for Most Improved Player.

“He’s a fun guy to be around right now,” Miller said. “Not that he wasn’t before, but everybody that’s followed our program closely saw him come here as a gangly 7-footer from Serbia who, I don’t know if any of us knew what he would be capable of or if it would all work. Certainly, we recruited him so we believed in him.”

Players like Ristic are a dying breed in the upper echelon of college basketball, where four-year lettermen have become a rarity and one-and-dones have become commonplace.

Consider: the only four-year (scholarship) players Miller has recruited at Arizona are Hill, Kevin Parrom, Kaleb Tarczewski, Gabe York, Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Ristic.

As such, Ristic is only two victories away from becoming UA’s all-time winningest player.

“I think it will be a remarkable story considering where he was when he came here from high school, how he stayed, and how’s really impacted his last team,” Miller said.

So while Ristic’s career at Arizona is nearing its end, his impact on the program will live on.

“We’ll certainly use him as an example,” Miller said. “In college athletics and college sports, sometimes that four-year player, that guy who leaves with his degree in the end who’s kind of built his game over a long period of time, is lost. But he’s a big reason that we’ve had the success we’ve had.”

Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire