Arizona men’s basketball’s 2022-23 roster is taking firmer shape with the recent additions of transfers Courtney Ramey and Cedric Henderson Jr. in the past week-and-a-half.
Ramey, a 6-foot-3 guard from Texas, should shore up Arizona’s backcourt while Henderson Jr., a 6-6 wing out of Campbell, gives the Wildcats additional experience and versatility. Arizona also recently signed class of 2022 Estonian big man Henri Veesaar, who is considered by some to be the top European prospect committed to playing in college next season.
Even with the trio of additions, Arizona still has two open scholarships for next season. UA coach Tommy Lloyd and his staff will have decide where (or whether) to allocate those scholarships. Arizona could still use some more depth after losing Bennedict Mathurin, Christian Koloko and Dalen Terry to the NBA Draft, Justin Kier to graduation and Shane Nowell to the NCAA transfer portal.
Here’s a look at where Arizona’s roster stands now and under what scenarios the Wildcats might add another player or two.
Between 2018-21, the Wildcats cycled through Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Justin Coleman, Nico Mannion and James Akinjo at point guard before Kerr Kriisa took the reins last season. With Kriisa returning, Arizona will bring back its starting point guard for the first time since PJC ran the 1 between 2016-18.
Kriisa gives Arizona a fiery, if streaky point guard who was playing some of his best basketball prior to suffering an ankle injury in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals. Kriisa’s forgettable NCAA Tournament performance can be written off to his injury recovery, though he wouldn’t use that as an excuse.
As a sophomore, Kriisa doubled his assists per game average from his freshman season, while his shooting percentage remained even. The Estonian improved his on-the-ball decision making as the season wore on, opting to get teammates the ball rather than pulling up for often contested shots. With Terry, Mathurin and Kier gone, Kriisa is undisputedly in control of the Arizona backcourt entering next season. That means he’ll have to be that much smarter with his shot versus pass selections.
Lloyd likes to let Kriisa play loose and with lots of swagger, which the rest of the team feeds off of. That usually works in Arizona’s advantage but at times it has also backfired. Whether Kriisa’s can balance his impassioned demeanor with his increased responsibilities will be one of the key questions entering the fall.
Arizona doesn’t possess a backup true point guard. Instead, the Wildcats are likely to turn to a combination of Ramey, Adama Bal and Pelle Larsson when Kriisa is out of the game. There was talk that UA 2023 commit Kylan Boswell could reclassify to 2022, but that seems unlikely considering it’s already mid-June.
Alongside Kriisa, Arizona will turn to Ramey, a graduate transfer with 106 career starts. Ramey is used to playing next to a lead guard, having shared the backcourt with Longhorns point guard Matt Coleman and Marcus Carr. Last year Ramey’s assist numbers dropped precipitously under new UT coach Chris Beard, a sign that he had trouble adjusting to a new system. Ramey was even benched early in the season but emerged as one of the Longhorns’ most reliable players as the year went on.
Like Kier a year ago, Ramey will have to adjust to a new role on a new team. The St. Louis is native is an above-average scorer, having shot 40 percent from the field last season. He scored 18 points in wins over Tennessee and Kansas. He is considered a tenacious defender, which will go a long ways in replacing Terry’s presence.
Bal is Arizona’s second option at shooting guard. The 6-6 Frenchman was terrific towards the end of the season, delivering a pair of key 3-pointers in the Wildcats’ Pac-12 Tournament title win over UCLA. Bal’s sample size is small. After all, he only played 105 minutes as a freshman. If he can consistently perform like he did in limited opportunities last year, he’ll emerge as the player that elevates Arizona from good to very good or maybe even great.
Larsson doesn’t fit a traditional small forward in role or size, but this is the best way to label other than as Arizona’s “third guard.” The 2021-22 Pac-12 Sixth Man of the Year, Larsson developed better than anyone on last year’s team not named Oumar Ballo. Larsson was hampered with a foot injury early in the season, but once he got back to full health, he played with a ton of confidence and physicality.
In February and March, he shot 51 percent from the field, including 62 percent from inside the arc. His rebounding consistency improved greatly as the season went on, as well. If the Swede has a weakness, it’s his tendency to turn the ball over. Over two seasons, his assists numbers number just barely outpace his turnover average: 2.2 to 2.0. With Mathurin and Terry out of the mix, Larsson has less margin for error, which makes his ball security that much more important.
Henderson Jr. gives Arizona an experienced option at the No. 3 position. The Campbell transfer has played 87 career games on top of a year of JUCO. The son of an NBA player, he has tremendous build at 6-foot-6, 190 pounds matched with elite shooting. Henderson Jr.’s worst shooting year was last season, when he shot a mere 49.8 percent from the field, averaging 14 points. It won’t be as easy to score against Pac-12 opponents, but if he shoots anywhere near that clip he’ll give Arizona a guy who’ll help fill the hole left by Mathurin.
Arizona’s third option at small forward is incoming freshman Filip Borovicanin of Serbia. Probably the least well known of the UA’s three freshmen, Borovicanin is nonetheless highly regarded, with 247 Sports ranking him in the top 100 of his class. Playing for KK Bevo of the First Men’s Regional League in Serbia, he averaged 20 points, 9 rebounds, 4.4 assists in 27 minutes.
Azuolas Tubelis’ return might be the most underrated storyline of the offseason. Though no one necessarily predicted the 6-foot-11 Lithuanian to test the NBA Draft waters or forge a career overseas, the idea must have floated in his mind more than once. A 2021-22 First Team All Pac-12 selection, Tubelis flourished as a sophomore, averaging 13.9 points on 54 percent shooting along with 6.2 rebounds per game.
Tubelis’ consistency improved as the season wore on. In Arizona’s jam-packed February, he scored between 14 and 23 points over nine games, posting three double-doubles. That was coming off an ankle injury at Stanford, too.
Unfortunately, Tubelis didn’t play with the same aggression towards the end of the season. When Arizona faced Houston in the Sweet 16, it was clear he lacked the confidence he had only a few weeks prior. Whether Tubelis can withstand and overcome the kind of resistance like he faced against Houston will determine how far Arizona goes next spring.
In the meantime, Tubelis is dealing with an apparent wrist injury that has him sidelined from international competition this summer.
Veesaar, a well-known name in Europe after playing Spanish program Real Madrid, gives Arizona another option at the No. 4 position. ESPN’s Jonathan Givony has watched the 7-foot Veesaar play extensively and has lots to to say about him.
“Veesaar has an intriguing skill set for a modern big man, with a 7-2 wingspan, excellent size, mobility and perimeter shooting ability that could allow him to emerge as a legit NBA prospect as his lanky frame fills out in time,” Givony notes. “He’s quick off his feet for lobs or putback dunks, but he shows promising ballhandling, passing ability and shooting range, as well as the ability to protect the rim and clean the defensive glass.”
Veesaar’s size and wingspan combined with his knack for knocking down 3s gives him tremendous upside. How soon Veesaar can polish up the rest of his game will determine when Arizona can insert him as a regular backup to Tubelis down low.
Ballo has the biggest shoes to fill on the team with Koloko off to the NBA. In his first year at Arizona, Ballo got to develop at a steady pace knowing he was playing alongside the Pac-12’s top post player. Next season, Ballo will face pressure to perform from game one. Ballo can’t pick and choose when he wants to be assertive. He has to be that way all the time.
To his advantage, Ballo is bigger than just about anybody he’ll square up with next season. The 7-footer Mali native is a lean 260 pounds and when he’s at his best, he uses that size to flat out bully opponents, like he did in the Pac-12 Championship game against UCLA, tallying six blocks and five rebounds. Ballo’s free throw shooting also took off late in the year. During the Pac-12 Tournament he made 11 of 12 free throw attempts.
Ballo also had a tendency to lay off his aggression last season. In the NCAA Tournament, he was a non-factor, recording four points, seven rebounds and four blocks in 43 minutes. Ballo didn’t look up for the challenge against a physically assertive Houston squad. It’s up to the coaching staff, his teammates and Ballo himself to grow his confidence heading into next season.
Dylan Anderson enters the fall as the Wildcats’ likely backup at center. The Gilbert, Arizona native looks the part at 7-feet and 215 pounds. Anderson’s high school coach told the Arizona Daily Star he has stretch-four ability and can score from inside, mid-range, or perimeter. That will be put to the test when Anderson matches up against big men who he can’t overwhelm physically. Barring something unforeseen, his trajectory will be that of a three of four-year player.
Who Arizona might use its final scholarships on
For a third straight year, Arizona will field a roster primarily made up of underclassmen sprinkled in with a grad transfer or two. Lloyd and staff likely want to develop a core group of experienced players going forward, similar to what Lloyd had to work with at Gonzaga for most of two decades.
In college basketball, there’s no easy way to add players with both experience and multiple years of eligibility. Instead, a staff has to add in young players and hope they stick around long enough to become multi-year vets. If Arizona is going to spend either of its last two open scholarships, they’ll probably go to guys out of high school or the transfer portal who they see sticking around for three, even four years.
Given Lloyd’s tendency to recruit international players, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he signs another foreigner. Otherwise, Arizona’s roster looks locked and loaded for the upcoming season.