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Breaking down Arizona basketball’s backcourt

Nico Mannion, Josh Green and Dylan Smith are gone, which means the Arizona Wildcats will break in three new starters in the backcourt this season. Thanks to an influx of ball handlers, that could mean three guards instead of two guards and a wing.

Here’s a breakdown of Arizona’s options. (We will analyze the team’s wings—Dalen Terry, Bennedict Mathurin and Tautvilas Tubelis—at another time. Go HERE for our breakdown of the frontcourt.)

Terrell Brown

NCAA Basketball: Seattle at St. Mary’s Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports
  • Positions: PG, SG
  • Year: Senior
  • Measurables: 6-foot-1, 175 pounds
  • 2019-20 stats: 29 G, 36.0 MPG, 20.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 4.8 APG, 1.6 SPG, 41.5 FG%, 29.1 3PT%, 78.4 FT%, 5.9 FTAPG
  • Strengths: Shot creating, rebounding, perimeter defense, experience
  • Likely role: Starter or sixth man
  • Overview: Jason Terry’s godson, Brown joins Arizona as a grad transfer after a standout season at Seattle, where he posted monster numbers and earned All-WAC honors. Can he replicate that in the Pac-12?
  • Sean Miller’s take: “I don’t care what conference you play in, if you score 21 points per game and you shoot the percentage from 2 that he shot, free throw attempts that he shot, we’re really excited to have Terrell. You could play him at that third guard, second guard or point guard (spot) but he’s older, he’s physical and I think it’ll help. You have this much (roster) have to blend in experience when you lose that much. And Terrell will be a godsend for us, no doubt. He’ll be a big part of what we do this next season.”

Kerr Kriisa

U18 FC Bayern Munich v U18 Zalgiris Kaunas - EB Adidas Next Generation Tournament Photo by David Grau/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images
  • Positions: PG, SG
  • Year: Freshman
  • Measurables: 6-foot-2, 165 pounds
  • 2019-20 stats (in Lithuania’s NKL): 25.0 MPG, 14.8 PPG, 6.0 APG, 2.5 TPG, 42.2 FG%, 40.9 3PT%, 83.1 FT%
  • Strengths: 3-point shooting, distributing
  • Likely role: Key reserve
  • Overview: Named after UA legend Steve Kerr, Kriisa is considered one of the top international guards to go the college route. He more than held his own playing against grown men in the NKL, Lithuania’s second-best professional league. Kriisa also has expansive experience playing for the Estonian national team and participated in the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders Global Camp last February where, according to ESPN, he “proved to be one of the top prospects in attendance, particularly impressing with the defense he played against projected lottery pick Killian Hayes.”
  • Miller’s take: “Kerr is just an amazing playmaker. If you watch him play in the variety of FIBA tournaments and with the different teams that he’s played on, the one thing that always holds true with him is he makes the right play. He loves to pass the ball. I love his ability to shoot. He is a deadly 3-point shooter when left open, but in the open court, playing pick-and-roll basketball, playing in transition. And because Kerr is every bit 6-foot-2, maybe 6-foot-3, he could be on the court with a variety of players. I also love his competitive spirit. The one thing that we’re in search of moving forward is... do they love the game? Is it really important to them? And do they win where they’re at? Do they play with great effort, spirit and energy? Those types of players continue to get better. And I think that our McKale crowd and the people who love and invest in our program, you fall in love with them as players because you know they’re always giving you their heart and soul.”

James Akinjo

Georgetown v St John’s Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images
  • Positions: PG, SG
  • Year: Junior
  • Measurables: 6-foot-1, 185 pounds
  • 2019-20 stats: 7 G, 30.7 MPG, 13.4 PPG, 4.4 APG, 3.0 RPG, 2.3 TPG, 33.7 FG%, 24.2 3PT%, 81.3 FT%
  • Strengths: Shot creating, toughness, 3-point shooting (maybe)
  • Likely role: Starter (when eligible)
  • Overview: Detractors—cough, Jim Boeheim, cough—will say Akinjo shoots too much and turns the ball over too often to be a dependable lead guard. Supporters will say the dude can ball. Akinjo was the Big East Freshman of the Year in 2018-19 when his counting stats were about the same as 2019-20 but his 3-point percentage was 15 points higher. Since Akinjo transferred from Georgetown midseason, he will have to wait until the end of the fall semester to play for Arizona unless he receives a waiver from the NCAA. He has applied for one and is awaiting a response.
  • Miller’s take: “James is that point guard that I think you love to have. He’s tough, he can score, he can get his own shot. ... (He’s) experienced, a little bit older, and I believe that we’re getting a point guard who will come into the Pac-12 and really settle in and be a very good player. The other thing I like about James is he doesn’t have to be the one and only point guard on the court. We could play a number of different combinations.”

Jemarl Baker Jr.

Utah v Arizona Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
  • Positions: PG, SG, SF
  • Year: Redshirt junior
  • Measurables: 6-foot-4, 200 pounds
  • 2019-20 stats: 32 G, 19.4 MPG, 5.7 PPG, 2.3 APG, 2.3 RPG, 36.2 FG%, 34.3 3PT%, 82.6 FT%
  • Strengths: 3-point shooting, versatility, leadership
  • Likely role: Starter or key reserve
  • Overview: The former Kentucky Wildcat had a hot start but cold finish to his first season as an Arizona Wildcat, particularly at the 3-point line where he only shot 27 percent in conference play. But those struggles made a lot more sense after Miller revealed Baker played through knee pain during the second half of the season, estimating he was only 80 percent healthy. Injuries, unfortunately, have hindered Baker throughout his career. He missed his true freshman season at Kentucky with a torn meniscus. When healthy, he can score at all three levels and play both guard spots.
  • Miller’s take: “I think just being more confident, adding to the experience he gained (will be big). At Kentucky, he didn’t get a lot of game experience, but last year he was able to gain that and there’s nothing like being able to get in the game and play. His health, I think he’s had a chance to really recuperate. He’s not with us everyday right now—we wish he was—but I know he’s working really hard and has access to a number of things there right by his house, so we’re counting on Jemarl. Experience is everything and when so much of the spotlight is focused on those newcomers, one of the thing that really helps them is when you have some returning players that are good and experienced. It just seems to go better, and Jemarl is one of those guys we’re counting on.”

Brandon Williams

Georgia Southern v Arizona Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
  • Positions: PG, SG
  • Year: Redshirt sophomore
  • Measurables: 6-foot-2, 190 pounds
  • 2018-19 stats: 26 G, 28.2 MPG, 11.4 PPG, 3.4 APG, 2.8 RPG, 1.8 TPG, 37.7 FG%, 31.7 3PT%, 81.9 FT%
  • Strengths: Slashing, distributing, 3-point shooting
  • Likely role: Starter or key reserve
  • Overview: Williams is coming off another knee surgery that caused him to miss his second season in four years, dating back to high school. He suffers from a congenital condition called osteochondritis dissecans in which bone underneath the cartilage of a joint dies due to lack of blood flow. Arizona is one player over the 13 scholarship limit and Williams has hinted at a possible departure, so it’s unclear if he will suit up for the Wildcats again. If he does and stays healthy, he could reemerge as their best all-around player. He shot 39 percent from 3 in conference play as a freshman.
  • Miller’s take: “Brandon is a heck of a basketball player. You guys saw him really at about, I don’t know 75, 80 percent of wherever he was as a freshman, and he was really our leading scorer if not our best overall player in that season. He could have been on the (Pac-12) All-Freshman team if he would have been able to finish. So you plug him in to our team a year ago, that’s something that we wish we had.”