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What to know from Sean Miller’s preseason Arizona basketball press conference

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 04 Arizona State at Arizona Photo by Chris Coduto/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Arizona Wildcats head coach Sean Miller met with the media Thursday for the first time since June. He would not comment on the NCAA investigation or the Notice of Allegations that is reportedly heading his program’s way, but he did touch on many other subjects in his hour-long interview.

The full thing can be watched at the bottom of this story, and here are the key tidbits:

  • Miller couldn’t provide much info on how his team is looking so far because it has so many newcomers—10, to be exact—and only recently began practicing with full contact: “I know this—we have a hard-working group,” he said. “Our guys are up early in the morning, we’re following the COVID protocol first and foremost, just making sure that it’s safe for our players, our staff and anyone involved.”
  • The Wildcats returned to campus in late August and started training “very slowly,” Miller said. First with outdoor strength and conditioning workouts in very small groups, then four-person workouts in the gym—AKA one player at each basket with no managers. Arizona received locker room access two days ago and “incrementally we’ve started to lift weights and do team activities in practice.”
  • Miller feels bad that fans won’t be able to attend games for at least a part of the season, saying that the McKale Center crowds are Arizona’s biggest competitive advantage for games and recruiting: “Yeah, it’s going to affect us. ... It’s going to be different, but it’s up to us to adjust. Having never done it before, I don’t think any of us can truly tell you how it feels until we go through it.”
  • Georgetown transfer James Akinjo was compared to former Xavier guards Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons: “We expect a lot from James,” Miller said. “He’s got an inner toughness that you either have it or you don’t. And he’s always won. ... so I think he brings a lot of leadership qualities. Obviously that position, the point guard position, in college basketball is incredibly important and I feel really good about who James is.”
  • Miller said talent and experience are the two most important components for a winning team. Arizona definitely doesn’t have that second one: “It might be the least experienced team that I’ve ever coached,” he said, “and we’re trying to keep that in mind as we practice and as we teach our guys you know to be patient, to make sure that we don’t move at too fast of a pace.”
  • The six international freshmen are all fluent in English: “They’re not like us where we go to their country and you need an interpreter,” Miller said. “They come to our country and then they know English and they’re well versed on traditions, etc.”
  • However, the international players do have an adjustment period when it comes to learning the college game, such as how to make a substitution, the way fouls are called liberally, and that the ball can be inbounded into the backcourt during sideline-out-of-bounds plays: “I try to have as many side conversations with our international players about that, but they’re quick learners, they love the game, they show up every day and work hard,” Miller said.
  • Miller loves how appreciative the international players are to be at Arizona: “It puts a great spirit in your heart as a coach, and sometimes when I drive home I watch just how grateful those guys are to eat the food that we have for them. Most recently we moved into the locker room and they look around and say, ‘Wow, this is a locker room?’ The gear that they’re able to get as a college student-athlete and the appreciation of McKale Center and Richard Jefferson Gym and the strength and conditioning quality, not only the facility but Justin Kokoskie and Chris Rounds working with them day in, day out, they’re so appreciative and it’s a breath of fresh air. Not that our other guys aren’t, but you grow up in the United States, you come to expect that this is already how I knew it was going to be.”
  • It’s too soon to know if seniors Ira Lee and Terrell Brown will return next season by taking advantage of the new NCAA legislation that gives winter athletes an extra year of eligibility or how that rule will impact Arizona’s future recruiting classes: “We have to get through this season first, but I am aware of it and I think it’s a great rule that was passed,” Miller said.
  • Jemarl Baker Jr. has been “solid” in practice so far. He will play off-the-ball this season and Miller thinks he can be a double-figure scorer. “The biggest point is we need him to shoot the ball,” Miller said. “Jemarl is an excellent shooter...and it’s just a matter of him gaining more confidence, getting more of an opportunity, being a year older, and I think to some degree just being healthy.”
  • Arizona still plans to roll with a lot of three-guard lineups that feature Akinjo, Baker, Kerr Kriisa, Terrell Brown, Dalen Terry and Bennedict Mathurin: “We have versatility with our guards and I think right now we’re not necessarily married to a lineup,” Miller said. “I think that those guys will all be able to contribute.”
  • Azuolas Tubelis will play more at the 4 than the 5 this season. At 6-foot-10, 240 pounds, Miller said strength isn’t an issue for the freshman: “Each day it seems like he’s really getting more comfortable and growing. I would say that his ability to run the floor, he’s left handed, being able to score at the 17-foot marker and eventually move out to the 3-point line. He can really face the basket and drive the ball from that area. He rebounds it well. I think the sky is the limit for him. I will tell you he he has a number of areas that he can really improve in, and we’re eager to help him improve in those areas.”
  • Miller said the Pac-12 schedule could be announced within the next couple weeks and, as of now, will include 20 conference games with two played before Christmas break.
  • Arizona will wear a uniform patch to commemorate Lute Olson this season and could wear throwback uniforms at some point, but probably not this year because of time constraints among other factors: “It’s probably appropriate that we do that when there’s fans in our arena and, hopefully, knock on wood when things return back to more how it once was,” Miller said.
  • Miller thinks this could be the best year of Pac-12 basketball because of the depth and experience in the conference: “I mean, some of our league’s best players and the starting’s amazing how many players on those NCAA Tournament teams are returning.”
  • Miller didn’t provide many details about the non-conference schedule, but argued that it makes sense for Arizona to play all those games at home because of player safety concerns, travel costs and his team’s lack of experience.
  • Miller confirmed that Illinois and Gonzaga postponed their home games with Arizona to next season so they can host the Wildcats with fans.
  • New assistant coach Jason Terry’s ingratiation period was slowed by the pandemic, but he is already impacting the program: “He’s up early in the morning working with our players,” Miller said. “I know a number of our guards have really gravitated to him already. In our world of recruiting, he gives us a different dynamic, somebody that’s clearly been there and done that at a very high level but has returned to his alma mater to coach, which again puts him in an even different category.”
  • Miller talked more about Nevada transfer Jordan Brown winning the first gold jersey, though everything you really need to know about that is in our story from Wednesday.
Sean Miller preseason press conference

Watch Sean Miller's full preseason press conference here ⬇️

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Thursday, October 22, 2020