The Arizona Wildcats never got to complete their 2019-20 season, one that began with so much promise, hope and hype before ending abruptly when the coronavirus pandemic shut down college basketball (and all other sports) in March.
While we’ll never know what this team could have accomplished in the NCAA Tournament, 32 games worth of competition is more than enough to assess each individual player’s performance.
- Year: Freshman
- Height: 7-foot
- Position: Center
- 2019-20 statistics: 2.3 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 0.9 BPG, 48.3% FG, 35.0% FT
More or less an afterthought of the 2020 recruiting class with so much attention paid to fellow freshmen Nico Mannion, Josh Green and Zeke Nnaji, Koloko was dubbed a project from the get-go because he was still learning the game and his opportunities his first season figured to be limited. The latter mostly held true, as Koloko averaged just 8.3 minutes per game and did not appear in four contests, but when he was on the court he was arguably one of Arizona’s most productive players.
A stellar rim protector, Koloko swatted 25 shots (second to Nnaji’s 28) in only 233 minutes, a block percentage of 12.4 that would have ranked second in the Pac-12 (and ninth nationally) had he qualified for leaderboards. As a result, his 85.8 defensive rating was best on the team, as was his 13.2 percent offensive rebounding rate as the big man helped gave the Wildcats many important second chances when he was on the court.
When the ball stayed in his hands, though, it was a different story. To call him an offensive liability in that respect would be putting it very lightly, as other than tip-ins and dunks his touch was almost non-existent, and having him draw shooting fouls was not a positive development either.
Still, considering what was expected of him entering the 2019-20 campaign and what the Wildcats got out of him, it’s fair to say Koloko might have had the best season of any of the UA’s freshmen.
Best stretch of play
With only 17 games in which he scored and a high of eight points, scoring was not Koloko’s speciality nor the indication that he was playing at his best. Minutes were a better indicator, since it meant Sean Miller had the confidence to put him on the floor, and he did that a lot in February and March.
Koloko played 10 or more minutes in seven of Arizona’s final eight games, including a career-high 18 at UCLA on Feb. 29, when he was 4 of 7 from the field with three rebounds and two blocks. That started a four-game run in which Koloko made at least two baskets in every game to average 5.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocks, going for 6 points, 2 rebounds and 2 blocks in the Pac-12 Tournament win over Washington.
Worst stretch of play
Koloko appeared in all 19 games against Pac-12 opponents, but early on those minutes were very limited and he didn’t do much with those opportunities. He had 8 points and 6 rebounds in 11 minutes in the conference opener against ASU, with much of that coming in garbage time, but then played just 33 minutes over the next five games.
He only had one basket in that span, as well as one game where he was able to pull down more than one rebound, though as his numbers showed later on it was just a matter of getting Koloko more comfortable playing meaningful minutes.
Sean Miller on Koloko: “He’s somebody that has maybe the biggest upside (on our team). If you judged Christian at the beginning of October as a player, he was very much a work in progress. To his credit, he’s found a contributing role and he’s helped us in numerous situations. Our hope is that he just keeps getting better, but we’re really happy with his progress. He practices hard every day and there’s no secret to that. And if you work at it, good things happen.”
Koloko’s ceiling looks to be much higher than originally thought, and based on how Arizona’s 2020-21 roster is shaping up he could see a significant bump in playing time next season. Even if the Wildcats add more frontcourt players it stands to reason Koloko will have a notable role simply for his defensive value, but how he develops on the offensive end between now and then will dictate just how much he’s involved.