Kerr Kriisa is eligible to debut for the Arizona Wildcats on Thursday at Utah and he will join the rotation at an opportune time.
Arizona is without starting two-guard Jemarl Baker Jr. for the season and just grinded through four games in 10 days as two key players—Bennedict Mathurin and Jordan Brown—battled ankle injuries.
At worst, Kriisa adds depth to a thin backcourt that has seen its minutes stack up over the last couple of weeks. At best, Kriisa’s ball-handling and shooting will elevate an Arizona offense that is already the 22nd-best in the country.
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 14.8 points and 6.0 assists per game in the Lithuanian NKL last season, shooting 39 percent from 3 and 84 percent from the free throw line.
“Most of the time when teams sub, they lose things at the point guard position. I think he’s a guy that can keep things going,” said starting point guard James Akinjo. “If we got a lead, we can keep the lead, if not further it. If we’re down, he can be a spark with his ability to get everybody the ball.”
Head coach Sean Miller said the addition of Kriisa is “really, really big” for the Wildcats for similar reasons, but urged fans to temper their immediate expectations for the freshman.
“It’s really a very difficult situation for Kerr to play his first college game ever when everybody that he’s playing with and against are on game 15, game 16, especially in the middle of the season,” he said. “We’re going to be in February, we’re on an away court. So I think the first things first, him being able to settle into a role where he can come in the game and sub out James, sub out Terrell (Brown), and kind of get a good feel about being out there. I’m sure he’s incredibly nervous.”
Although it’s not like Kriisa has never played with his new teammates before. He has practiced fully with the Wildcats during his NCAA suspension. Well, aside from when he briefly left the team in November to play for the Estonian national team, and for a couple weeks earlier this month when he broke his nose and suffered a concussion.
“Other than those two periods of time, he practices with us, he goes to shootaround, he knows our plays, he knows our system,” Miller said. “He’s not starting from scratch there. We just are going to welcome him to our team simply because we’re starving for a perimeter player, and he’s that. He could play both 1 and the 2. He’s an excellent shooter. He’s a very, very good player, but I think it’ll take him some time to get comfortable.”