LAS VEGAS — Chase Jeter said Arizona’s season ending in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament “hurts a lot” but he is happy how his game progressed as a redshirt junior.
“I think it’s come along tremendously,” he said Wednesday at T-Mobile Arena.
After all, the big man averaged a career-high 10.9 points and 6.6 rebounds in his first season with the Wildcats, a huge step up from the 2.1 points and 2.2 rebounds he averaged across two seasons with the Duke Blue Devils.
“When I came to Arizona I knew I wanted a role and an opportunity like this, and I think for a major part of the year I was able to show that,” Jeter said.
That is, until he suffered back spasms against Oregon State on Jan. 19, and a knee contusion against the Beavers on Feb. 28, causing his production to tail off significantly at the end of the season.
Before the back injury, Jeter was averaging a sparkling 13.3 points and 7.6 rebounds per game on 62.5 percent shooting, staking a claim as Arizona’s best player.
But after the injury he averaged a pedestrian 7.9 points and 5.5 rebounds on 47.1 percent shooting, becoming a liability on offense.
“It got difficult at the end,” Jeter admitted.
Both for him and the team. The Wildcats were 13-5 prior to Jeter’s injury, but only 4-10 after it, crushing their shot of reaching the postseason.
Jeter was the only true center in a thin frontcourt, so the Wildcats struggled anytime he was absent or limited. That, coupled with Brandon Williams’ six-game absence and Emmanuel Akot transferring midseason, makes it easy to understand why the Wildcats floundered to the finish line, losing their last three games.
“We dealt with a lot of adversity,” Jeter said. “We didn’t quite meet our expectations, especially towards the end. I think we’re all disappointed and frustrated that we didn’t get the opportunity to finish as strong as we wanted.”
Still, Jeter said he proved to himself that he is “capable of doing good things” on the court.
“I’ve grown up a lot,” he said. “I think just mentally, the things I used to think about, the way I would process everything from practice to games to everything. I’ve grown up, I’ve matured a lot, I’ve changed. I’ve got the mindset.”
Jeter, Arizona’s best rebounder and an adept positional defender, knows he needs to expand his game offensively to take that next step as a player.
“My mid-range game,” he said when asked what he plans to work on this offseason. “Obviously getting stronger, being able to knock down 3s if I’m open. Typical things that you see big men in the pros doing everyday. I want to make sure I can bring that to the table.”
Speaking of the pros, Jeter has a decision to make this offseason. He graduated in December, meaning there would be very little downside for him to forgo his fifth year of eligibility and give the professional ranks a go.
While Jeter is not listed in any NBA mock drafts and almost surely would go undrafted, playing in the G League or somewhere overseas is a viable option. One could even argue it is his best option, given his lengthy injury history.
Another route Jeter could go, though it seems much less likely, is becoming a grad transfer and spending his fifth year at another school.
But when speaking to reporters after Wednesday’s loss to USC, Jeter sounded like a guy who plans to return to the Wildcats next season, saying “better days are ahead for us.”
“Right now I’m in a grad school program that I intend to finish, so I won’t really discuss anything like that,” he said. “As of right now, I’m just focused on finishing the school year.”