Arizona’s back, baby.
With Dalen Terry’s announcement that he would, indeed, remain in the NBA Draft, the Wildcats are set to lose three starters from last year’s team that won the Pac-12 and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Never again will we see Terry, in Arizona red and blue, make a great pass, nail a timely three or stick his tongue out.
We also won’t see another high-flying Benn Mathurin dunk or offensive explosion, nor will we be treated to a Christian Koloko block party.
No, all three players are pursuing their NBA dreams, leaving school early in order to do so.
It happens. And for the best Arizona teams, it happens with great regularity.
The college basketball landscape is such that the best players don’t stick around for very long. Having a top player reach his sophomore season is increasingly rare.
This trio of future professional Cats did not arrive on campus as one-and-done talents, but instead players whose potential you could see and could only hope would be realized while they were wearing an Arizona uniform.
As this last season went on, though, it became clear that each of the players had improved to the point where not only could they be key cogs in one of the nation’s best teams, but also appealing additions for NBA franchises.
The pre-draft workout process has only served to confirm it.
So now it’s on Arizona and its fans to wish them luck. And to understand that seeing them get drafted, with the conversation about them and the highlights that follow, is beneficial to the program.
Having Benn, C-Lo and DT become successful, impact professionals will help, too. The best players want to become pros, and proof Arizona can make it happen is nothing but a good thing.
Of course, whereas the Wildcats would have once again been one of the best teams in the nation had any combination of the three returned to school, Tommy Lloyd and his staff are now tasked with filling more holes than they likely anticipated, at least as of a few weeks ago.
There’s no reason to think they will struggle to do so. And besides, the remaining Wildcats are a pretty talented bunch, with some new arrivals that offer great promise.
Sound familiar? It should, because once again this is standard operating procedure when the Arizona program is firing on all cylinders.
That’s not to say Arizona is guaranteed to win the conference or any tournaments next season. Replacing three-fifths of a starting lineup and maintaining the same level of success is difficult to do, and the Cats will be forced to rely on some players who are either new to the college game or their roles.
Feeling down on that possibility? It’s not all that different from how things were a year ago, and it’s fair to say things worked out pretty well. Similarly, there’s a chance things could once again fall into place.
Fully healthy, maybe Pelle Larsson is ready to take another step forward and become a reliable shooter, facilitator and defender. Perhaps Adama Bal, the tantalizing freshman who looked like a bucket-getter in limited minutes last season, will be ready to torment opponents on a full-time basis.
Oumar Ballo could emerge as a greater force, while Kerr Kriiisa and Azoules Tubelis each has room to improve.
Maybe all of it happens; perhaps none of it does, or more likely we get something in between. What it will add up to is anyone’s guess, but this is the kind of conundrum all the best programs in the country face.
Get great talent —> coach up great talent —> lose great talent —> find a way to replace great talent. Hope to win some championships along the way, then rinse and repeat.
All the while expectations remain high, with not much wiggle room for down years.
This is how it has been, how it is and how it will be.
This is Arizona.