The Arizona Wildcats played six newcomers and two returning players in their 74-55 win over Grambling State on Friday. But it was the absence of one from each of those groups that might be the most concerning for the UA’s immediate future.
Arizona coach Sean Miller said freshman point guard Kerr Kriisa is scheduled to rejoin the team once he’s done competing for Estonia in a qualifying tournament for EuroBasket 2022, the Olympic-style European basketball championship. Whether he’ll be eligible to play upon his return to Tucson is uncertain, Miller said.
“I don’t have a crystal ball, I don’t have the NCAA’s phone number,” Miller said. “They don’t tell me what they’re going to do two weeks from now as it applies to amateurism and eligibility.
“We have our fingers crossed that at some point he can join us, like four or five other players from Europe that came here the same way he did.”
Miller said senior forward Ira Lee, who was unavailable due to a concussion suffered three weeks ago, is now symptom free and will soon rejoin practice but it’s unknown when he’ll be able to make his 2020-21 debut.
Miller said Kriisa would not have left the team had he been able to play for the Wildcats at this point, but because he’s yet to be cleared “I thought it was right for both him and his family and Estonia” to let him compete for his country.
“We allow our players to play on USA Basketball and give them their opportunity,” Miller said. “Kerr, he also deserves his own opportunity.”
Pressed on the issue, Miller scoffed at speculation that Kriisa might opt to remain in Europe pending a decision on his eligibility.
“All we can do is send Kerr home to compete for his country, talk to him every day and wait for his return,” Miller said. “I guess he has the option of not returning. I can’t really give you a wholehearted evaluation of his mindset at the conclusion of the tournament.”
Miller called Kriisa “a big part of our team” who will provide Arizona backcourt depth. The Wildcats could have used it Friday when Jemarl Baker Jr. got into foul trouble.
“Without Kerr...we almost needed another guard, but that’s the problem just with the way this is,” Miller said. “You can only do so many things, so we’ll try to implement that into our style and let Benn (Mathurin) get maybe some more opportunities at that shooting guard position, more so than we have to this point.”
As for Lee, Miller revealed this was not the veteran’s first concussion. He added that the timetable for his return will depend on how he reacts to being back out on the court and whether any symptoms return.
“I don’t have the answer of when he’ll be able to play in games simply because I don’t know how he’ll respond to being back out on the court,” Miller said. “We missed him tonight. One of the reasons we missed him is, you can’t have enough guys that have played in games before. He’s very, very physical, he gives us depth inside. Bringing somebody in who’s 22 years old, who’s been through these things, could have been beneficial to our team.”
Last season forward Stone Gettings suffered a concussion during a game on Nov. 29 and missed the next five games, not returning until Jan. 4.