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Breaking down Arizona basketball’s frontcourt

The Arizona Wildcats had a versatile frontcourt in 2019-20, with players with all kinds of skill sets. Many of the names have changed, but the same holds true for the big men on UA’s 2020-21 roster, which includes three freshmen, two sophomores, and a senior.

“We’re really banking on that experience and depth,” head coach Sean Miller said. “It helps every day in practice, and with so many of these guys being young, I think they’ll develop, they’ll improve as the year goes on. It allows you to play physical, be a better rebounding team and be a better overall team from November to March. So we’re excited about the depth and the size and I think the combination of returning players with the talent of the newcomers.”

Here is an overview of each member of the frontcourt. (Note that Tautvilas Tubelis, 6-foot-6, is being a considered a wing for this exercise, hence why he is not included.)

Jordan Brown

Photo via @APlayersProgram on Twitter
  • Positions: PF, C
  • Year: Redshirt sophomore
  • Measurables: 6-foot-11, 220 pounds, 7-foot wingspan
  • Strengths: Rebounding, interior scoring, defense
  • Likely role: Starter
  • Overview: The Nevada transfer is eligible to play in 2020-21 after sitting out a season due to NCAA rules. Brown was a McDonald’s All-American coming out of Prolific Prep in Napa, California but struggled to earn playing time in his lone season at Nevada, averaging 3.0 points and 2.1 rebounds in 10.1 minutes for a team that was ranked in the top 10 and loaded with seniors.
  • Miller’s take: “The one word that I’ll give you about him that I think he will show up right away is he has a physical presence as a basketball player. He loves contact, he doesn’t shy away from contact, he shows up rebounding in both ends. It shows up in him being able to play our style of defense. He’s also quick enough and agile enough that he moves his feet really well away from the basket. But in our practices against some really good competition, day in, day out, we believe in him as a guy that we can throw the ball to and he could score around the basket as well. So, Jordan is going to be a big, big part of our success.”

Azuolas Tubelis

U18 Rytas Vilnius v U18 Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade - EB Adidas Next Generation Tournament Photo by David Grau/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images
  • Positions: PF, C
  • Year: Freshman
  • Measurables: 6-foot-9, 227 pounds
  • Strengths: Interior scoring, transition offense, rebounding
  • Likely role: Starter or key reserve
  • Overview: Considered by ESPN as the top international prospect to go the college route, Azuolas heads to Arizona with an impressive resume. The 6-foot-9, 227-pound forward just averaged 16.5 points per game for Perlas Vilinius in the NKL, Lithuania’s second-best professional league. Tubelis shot 50 percent from the field and grabbed 6.2 boards per game, despite competing against men. In the FIBA U18 European Championships, Tubelis led Lithuania in scoring (14.9 PPG) and rebounding (12.6 RPG).
  • Miller’s take: “I think he gives us a lot of the same things that we came to love about Zeke Nnaji in that he’s a forward that’s versatile, very physical, can impact the game around the basket, but also is adept away from the rim, maybe even a little bit more so than Zeke. Zeke maybe was a little bit bigger and more physical around the basket. ... (Azuolas) too is physical, but I would say him being able to push the ball, dribble, being able to play both outside and inside and do it at 6-foot-9+, I think he might be as battle tested as any of these guys that are part of our class.”

Daniel Batcho

  • Positions: PF, C
  • Year: Freshman
  • Measurables: 6-foot-10, 225 pounds
  • Strengths: Interior scoring, rebounding
  • Likely role: Key reserve
  • Overview: Before Tubelis was regarded as the top international big man to go the college route, that designation belonged to Batcho. The Frenchman averaged a team-best 14.8 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks in four games with CFBB Paris in the Adidas Next Generation Tournament, earning MVP honors. Batcho shot 70% from the field and 13 for 17 (76.5%) from the free-throw line.
  • Miller’s take: “Daniel is a physical 6-foot-10 forward/center. I think he could play both positions for us. He’s aggressive. He’s a very good defensive rebounder, adept at FIBA basketball where pick-and-roll and playing up and down, being able to defend pick-and-rolls, those are things that he’s been doing for a number of years. Hungry guy, a guy that loves the game. Really excited to have him.”

Christian Koloko

  • Positions: C
  • Year: Sophomore
  • Measurables: 7-feet, 215 pounds, 7-foot-4 wingspan
  • Strengths: Shot blocking, length, rebounding, lateral quickness
  • Likely role: Starter or key reserve
  • 2019-20 stats: 8.3 MPG, 2.3 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 0.9 BPG, 48.3 FG%, 35.0 FG%
  • Overview: A three-star recruit, Koloko was considered a project coming to Arizona but he proved useful as a freshman. Blessed with incredible length and above average athleticism, he was very disruptive on defense, racking up a block percentage (12.3) that would have ranked 12th nationally had he played enough minutes to qualify. He also led Arizona in offensive rebounding percentage (13.1). Otherwise, he remains a work in progress on that end.
  • Miller’s take: “We all saw glimpses of Christian Koloko. Christian is very different than everybody else on our team, and he has the gift of shot blocking. But getting him bigger and stronger, and I think being able to get in that game experience that we got in the month of January and February, I think he’s going to be further along than he may have otherwise been if he didn’t play as much last year. But we really believe in him and I think that it’ll be a night and day difference between who you saw as a freshman and having more of those moments, the good moments, as a sophomore. He’s going to be a better player.”

Tibet Gorener

arizona-wildcats-tibet-gorener-turkey-2020-recruiting-international-kerr-kriisa-miller-creighton 247Sports
  • Positions: SF, PF
  • Year: Freshman
  • Measurables: 6-foot-8, 175 pounds
  • Strengths: 3-point shooting
  • Likely role: Specialist, small-ball 4 off the bench
  • Overview: The Turk is the lowest-ranked of Arizona’s recruits, checking in at No. 180 prospect in the 2020 class. Gorener attended Orange Lutheran in Southern California this year, the same school that produced former Wildcat Gabe York. He is a 3-point specialist through and through. In his time with Team Turkey in the FIBA Championships, 78 of his 132 shots (59%) came from behind the arc, including 40 of 54 in the 2019 tournament. Altogether, he made 37 percent of his triples.
  • Miller’s take: “He shoots the basketball, off the catch, off the move, really has a great feel for moving without the ball. And I think as he gets bigger and stronger physically, that’s when you’re going to see the best for Tibet. And that’s something we pride ourselves in.”

Ira Lee

NCAA Basketball: Baylor at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports
  • Positions: PF, C
  • Year: Senior
  • Measurables: 6-foot-7, 240 pounds, 6-foot-9 wingspan
  • Strengths: Energy, physicality, senior leadership
  • Likely role: Energy big off the bench
  • 2019-20 stats: 13.0 MPG, 3.3 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 0.5 SPG, 0.3 BPG, 52.9 FG%, 53.1 FT%
  • Overview: Lee enters his senior season in rare territory as just the eighth player in the Miller era to sign with Arizona and remain with the team all four years. Lee has been an energy player in his first three seasons, often producing highlight dunks and shot blocks.
  • Miller’s take: “Ira’s been through a lot of experiences and the physicality that he brings, oftentimes seniors have their very best season in their last year with us and I’m hoping that Ira is one of those guys.”