The good part about early-season games, Sean Miller says, is that even in losses it is easy to find a silver lining.
Against Baylor, there were a few—the way the Arizona Wildcats defended, the way they hung in there despite a historically bad offensive day, and the emergence of freshman Christian Koloko.
The spindly 7-footer provided 12 quality minutes off the bench, posting two points, two assists (including a behind-the-back pass), a host of blocks, and +5 plus-minus.
“The one thing he didn’t do is rebound, but just kind of evaluating his 12-minute segment, I don’t know how many were really there for him to get,” Miller said. “It’s not like he struck out. But he had two assists, no turnovers and he actually blocked three shots. I think the stat sheet might have had him for two, but he did block three. We also had him for two other (shots) that he legitimately affected the miss. So in 12 minutes [Baylor] went 0 for 5 because of him.”
Arizona’s frontcourt is loaded with varying skill sets, and there is no secret what Koloko brings to the table. Armed with a 7-4 wingspan, he is swatting 4.7 shots per 40 minutes, three times more than the next UA player.
“It’s a different element,” said senior guard Dylan Smith. “He gets up there, blocks shots. He’s longer than people normally think. He’s unexpectedly long and he’s athletic too. So he just has to get more game experience. And the more he gets, the better he’ll get.”
Koloko’s 12 minutes against Baylor tied a season-high. The moment wasn’t too big for him.
“He came into game, he wasn’t nervous,” Miller said. “He did what he was supposed to do and he really ran the court well on both ends.”
Miller wants to keep Koloko in a rhythm, so he plans to keep him in the rotation moving forward. So far, Koloko has only played in six of Arizona’s 10 games.
“How much (he plays) I think will depend on the opponent and how the game is going,” Miller said. “As you guys know, the best years are ahead of him. It’s not now, it’s going to be a year from now, two years from now, but a part of us developing Christian is giving him some game experience and allowing him to play in games too. So we’re aware of that.”
A three-star prospect, Koloko was by far the least heralded player in Arizona’s 2019 class. He hasn’t been playing organized basketball as long as most people his age and it has only been a few years since he immigrated to the United States from Cameroon.
Still, he has developed at a pace that even UA coaches have been pleasantly surprised by, his behind-the-back pass being a perfect example of that.
“He had a good day yesterday in practice, and that’s the one thing that we’ve kept our eye on. I don’t think Christian’s missed a day,” Miller said. “He’s practiced hard every day and that competitive spirit where he plays against Ira (Lee), Stone (Gettings), Chase (Jeter) and Zeke (Nnaji) every day, that’s a great group for him to play against. So I think part of why he played well against Baylor is that he has practiced hard and well and he’s practiced against a good group, for sure.”
With Jeter and Gettings being seniors and Nnaji possibly being a one-and-done, it might not be long before Koloko is more than just a situational player.
“He’s good, man,” Smith said. “He learns things quick. It’s just him being so young and we got two good bigs in Chase and Zeke and even Stone and Ira. He’s young, man. He’s a baby right now. The sky’s the limit for him. He’s going to be an NBA player one day.”