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Tommy Lloyd: Arizona men’s basketball ‘in great shape’ despite roster uncertainty entering offseason

arizona-wildcats-college-basketball-recruiting-tommy-lloyd-transfer-mathurin-koloko-dalen-terry-2022 Photo by Jack Dempsey/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

When Tommy Lloyd accepted the Arizona job last April, he had no idea what kind of roster he’d end up with for his first game as the Wildcats’ head coach. A year later, almost the same scenario applies.

“Everything’s in flux,” Lloyd said Thursday, the one-year anniversary of his hiring. “As I tell people, April in college basketball is a crazy time. Everybody takes a step back, and every coach wants to renegotiate, every player wants to know what their options are. Obviously, there’s no guarantees about anything, but I feel great that we’re gonna have a really good roster next year.”

As of now, Arizona’s is set to return six of its top eight players from a team that won the Pac-12 regular-season and conference tournament titles, earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and reached the Sweet 16. The only confirmed departures are 6th-year guard Justin Kier, who is out of eligibility, and sophomore wing Bennedict Mathurin, who declared for the NBA Draft on Wednesday.

After that? It’s anybody’s guess.

Sophomore wing Dalen Terry and junior center Christian Koloko, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and the league’s Most Improved Player, are both listed on various NBA mock drafts. Without mentioning them specifically, Lloyd said Arizona had a “couple of other guys” who are still figuring out their future plans, with no timeline for when any decisions will be made.

Some of the UA’s international players, like point guard Kerr Kriisa or power forward Azuolas Tubelis, could be considering playing overseas, while hardly used freshman wing Shane Nowell figures to be the team’s most likely entrant into the NCAA transfer portal if any were to go. For now, though, they’re all still part of the program.

Which means Lloyd and his staff are still limited in what they can do to fill up the roster.

“We’ve all seen college basketball has really changed the last 10 years, then last five years and then the last year there’s been significant changes,” said Lloyd, who won multiple national Coach of the Year awards including one he accepted during a media timeout during the national championship game. “So, I just think you buckle up, and you understand it’s gonna be a busy offseason and you try to look at the options available. For me, the number one options available are always the guys currently on the team, and I’m trying to do what’s right by them. And I’ve always let you guys know, my favorite players are the ones on our roster. Try to help them figure out what they’re going to do, and give them some space so they and their families can do what they do, and then I try to fill all the gaps accordingly. There’s no crazy master plan or anything, it’s honestly is navigating things day to day and trying to make the best decisions you can for the program.”

Arizona has three open scholarships, having filled Kier’s spot with incoming 7-foot freshman Dylan Anderson. The Wildcats did not use on schollie in 2021-22, and may not again while patiently waiting for the NCAA and IARP to decide on their punishment for alleged recruiting violations, while Kim Aiken’s still-unexplained departure during the season created a second opening and Mathurin turning pro made for a third.

“We’ll see how many scholarships we end up having and hopefully we’ll be able to find some guys to fill the open spots,” Lloyd said. “I mean, you like to have 5-on-5 for practice.”

Anderson, who is ranked No. 99 in the 2022 recruiting class, is “a really good player” that Lloyd said fits Arizona’s style, noting that his skillset includes being able to make 3-pointers. Unless the UA signs someone else from the prep ranks it will end up being its smallest freshman class since the 1990s.

Asked what he would say to fans expecting a larger class, Lloyd said to trust the process.

“I think we’re in great shape,” he said. “I love where we’re at. People decide to do things for whatever reason, and this is how I operate. I think we’re in great position, and I think we’re gonna have a really good roster next year, and I think will be extremely competitive, and I’m excited about that.”