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What Tommy Lloyd, Pelle Larsson and Oumar Ballo said at Pac-12 Media Day

arizona-wildcats-mens-basketball-pac12-media-day-las-vegas-tommy-lloyd-oumar-ballo-pelle-larsson Arizona Athletics

With this being the final season of the Pac-12 Conference, and the emotions of that messy break-up still playing out, this year’s Pac-12 men’s basketball Media Day in Las Vegas had a much more straightforward tone. No fancy intro, no opening remarks from commissioner George Kliavkoff, just chances for the league’s players and coaches to preview their teams.

Arizona was first on the stage, a choice made by the alphabet but also fitting since the Wildcats were picked to win the conference for the first time since 2017-18.

Here’s what UA coach Tommy Lloyd, wing Pelle Larsson and center Oumar Ballo had to say Wednesday morning:

Lloyd on bouncing back from the first-round loss to Princeton: “It’s a long offseason, which was good in a lot of respects. It really kind of allowed me time to continue my growth as a coach. I know I’m in a special place, and I know I carry a huge responsibility and that comes with that and I’m done, but I’m excited. I’m excited about the group of guys we have. It’s been fun watching them kind of grow as a team. And obviously we still have a lot of work to do like everybody else, but I think we got a lot of the right pieces and now we just got to put it together and get challenged and go through some adversity and hopefully the outcome will be good.”

On the team’s toughness: “Toughness can be kind of a catch-all term. I’ve never felt that we’re soft, I think we play a very aggressive,physical style of basketball. But at the end of the day, you get in a single-elimination tournament and toughness comes in lots of forms. It could be sticking to a game plan. It could be the physical things you have with dominating the point in and dominating the glass and things like that. I think it’s important. The first thing I thought after that Princeton game is I need to increase our margin for error. And to me, toughness is a way that you do that. If you want to be competitive in these games, you sometimes you got to be able to physically dominate your opponent. We’re going to strive for that. We know it’s going to be challenging. We know other teams fight back really hard. I think toughness is a cornerstone of our program, and I think for us to be able to make sure when you get to March, that you’re able to be successful, toughness has to be a key element of everything we do.”

On what corrections will need to be made after playing such a tough nonconference schedule: “There’s going to be corrections, and the reason you play opponents like that is because they’re going to expose you. To me that that’s part of the fun is trying to figure it out. I mean, I can maybe guess at some of the things that I need to correct, but I think those are going to show themselves over time. I don’t want to like pre-determine we’re not going to be good at this or we’re going to be great at that. I’m going to kind of let it play out in front of me and then I’ll coach it in the moment as things start to show up.”

On Caleb Love: “He’s got a lot of talent. What he did at Carolina, people will say he was inconsistent or inefficient or whatever you want to say. All I know is this: two years ago in the NCAA Tournament, that dude had 30 points in an Elite Eight game and 28 in a Final Four. There’s not many guys in the history of college basketball that can say they’ve done that. They didn’t have a great year as a team last year, and he was part of it and he owned it, and he and I have had amazing conversations about how we can help him and how he can help us, and so I think we got him at the right time. I know maybe he’s been a little bit of a lightning rod because, when you put into place like Carolina, and you’re preseason No. 1 and it doesn’t work out, I mean, there’s going to be some criticism that comes with that. He knows that, but he’s someone that everyone in college basketball, media, fans should be rooting for. These young guys deserve multiple opportunities to be successful. You shouldn’t be defined what happens one year at Carolina when your team is preseason No. 1 and there’s a lot of things that go into it.For me, I know this: I’m always rooting for young people, and I can’t wait for this to turn out to be a success story this year.”

On Oumar Ballo: “He has a special place in my heart. I mean, this is a guy that, I knew he was gonna be successful because he has amazing high character. He had to deal with some growing pains and some struggle, and I think he’s come out on the other side. The conversations I’ve had him with, it’s not so much statistical growth or anything like that. I mean, I’m sure he wants to add a 3-point shot, but that’s not as important to me. I just want to see him continue to grow as a basketball player, kind of in modern basketball, so that he can be successful outside of an Arizona setting and have a long, good career, because the game has changed for players like him. And maybe we’re a little bit old school in the way we play in, where we really value and reward guys like him. I don’t know if other systems are doing that across the country, in basketball in general. But it’s the leadership and he has so much potential there. His leadership can be grounded in the fact that he’s dealt with struggle and come through it. I think all these guys, these young players, struggle as part of their growth process. So to have somebody who’s done it, come through the other side, I think he can be a great example for others and especially within our program.”

On developing returners: “For me, one of the core tenets of our program is always gonna be pushing the limits of individual player development. I mean, I think that’s an important part of it, snd we’re 100 percent bought into that and I think our players in our program feel that. At the end of last season, when you’re going through everything and you’re figuring out what your roster’s gonna look like, I always slept good because I was banking on these guys coming back, not even knowing who the other guys coming in were going to be. I thought if I had Kylan Boswell, Pelle Larsson and Oumar Ballo coming back and they’re going to make the kinds of off-season jumps that guys make in our program, that’s the foundation for a top-10 team right there. I think those guys have made that jump and I think we’ve added some really good pieces too it and I’m excited.”

On Pelle Larsson: “Pelle is an incredibly talented player, there’s no doubt in my mind he’s an NBA talent. He’s been finding his way in college basketball. I think this is going to be an opportunity for him to maybe be one of those kind of featured players and he’s ready for that moment.”

On Keshad Johnson: “Keshad is an amazing person. First off, I want to say that San Diego State did a great job with him over the course of his career, and he really developed there. He started as kind of a guy that didn’t play to being a starter, and I see that growth continuing. So he came in with a great foundation and I’m thankful for that. He’s a very versatile player, and I don’t want to label him as a defensive player, because I think he’s really good at both sides of the ball. But defensively, he has an ability in the modern game. He switches, he can switch guard one through five, he can pressure the basketball, he can cover up for mistakes, protect the rim, he’s a force on the glass. Offensively, in our system, that kind of 4 man is in the middle of the action a lot, and I really see his playmaking grow and shooting grow and I’m excited for him to get an opportunity to kind of show that stuff.”

On any potential changes to Arizona’s playing style: “I think we’re gonna walk the ball up and play in the 40s this year. Sytlistically I’m always looking to grow. I think maybe you’re gonna see some different layers, we’re trying to add more to our system and may be playing a different way. We had Tubelis at the 4, which I really like having those two big guys out there, but I don’t know if we’ll have that as much as we did last year, so the floor might be opened up a bit more, some spacing scenarios. But we have a system, and I don’t know if we recruit to or play to it, whatever, but we’re gonna play fast, we’re gonna move the ball. We’re going to play in ball screens, I’m going to be on the guys to make good decisions with the ball. We’re gonna have disciplined shot selection. All the elements are going to be there. And defensively, we’re continuing to grow there as well. The first year I think we were a top-10 defense. Last year I don’t think we were as good defensively but I think we were top-40 when you look at it analytically.”

Larsson on staying in shape despite taking an overseas exhibition trip: “They got weight rooms at hotels.”

On his offseason improvements: “Just finding more ways within our offense, I think, to score. Find the right opportunities to get your shot and then just stay aggressive and try and play more aggressive than ever on the defensive end. Hopefully I can dump the ball to Oumar as much as I can.”

On his college journey: “When I came in as freshmen I definitely didn’t imagine myself playing at Arizona, but it’s been great and very blessed and thankful. Me and O kind of got there at the same time and went through the same stuff, so it’s really nice for me to share that journey with him.”

On adjusting to coming off the bench: “I don’t think there’s any big adjustments necessary, it’s kind of how I was taught. What matters is when you’re on the court, what you’re doing when you’re on the court, I was taught to just play to win. So I’ve just been there trusting that and trusting my coach and my teammates that what we do in practice is going to get us better, and stick to the plan and help as much as I can when I’m actually on the court.”

On the overall roster: “We got a lot of guys. I feel like this is probably like the deepest roster that I’ve been a part of, so many talented young guys and experienced upperclassmen. It’s a good mix. And honestly in practice, we can divide it into like three even teams and go at it and butt heads. It’s been really fun this offseason, and anyone that will get the chance in the spotlight will definitely try to take advantage and step up for themselves and the team.”

Ballo on being motivated by the Princton loss: “Last year, we didn’t finish the way that we wanted to, so that put a chip on our shoulder. We have to get better as a team and as individuals.”

On his college career: “Personally, Arizona was one of my top three schools but I went to Gonzaga because of Coach Lloyd, and that was probably the best decision because it led me where I needed to be. I’m thankful for the program to give me a second chance.”