For the first time since taking over the program, Tommy Lloyd is using all 13 scholarships allotted to him. And all indications are that he plans on using a higher number of those scholarship players on a regular basis than in previous seasons.
“I think it definitely is the deepest team in my three years here,” Lloyd said Monday, the official start of preseason practice. “But saying it and utilizing it ... are different things.”
Arizona’s bench usage, or lack thereof, was a sore spot among the UA fanbase throughout the 2022-23 season and even more so after the Wildcats were bounced by 15th-seeded Princeton in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Only eight players saw action in that game, and there were plenty of games where the rotation didn’t go past seven.
That was by design, but looking back on it Lloyd acknowledges that design was flawed.
“I feel like last year, when I tried to self-assess, maybe I sliced the roster a little too thin last year,” he said. “(It) can work and certainly has worked for others, and I’ve been on teams where it has worked, but maybe last year it kind of showed itself at the end.”
Arizona had six players averaged 23 or more minutes per game last season, with Kylan Boswell averaging 15.2. In 2021-22 there were seven players getting at least 20 minutes per game, with Oumar Ballo averaging just over 15.
“I felt like one of the priorities for the program (was) to increase our margin for error,” Lloyd said. “And one of the ways was adding more depth.”
How many will see regular time this go-around? Nine? Ten? Lloyd said deciding that doesn’t has to happen for a while, and he doesn’t think it necessarily has to be decided by him.
“I’m not overthinking it too much right now, because I don’t want to, like, predetermine or slice people off a little bit just to make my job easier,” he said. “My job doesn’t need to be easy. The players are ultimately going to get what they deserve, opportunity-wise. And they’re aware of that.”
Of those who averaged double-digit minutes with Arizona last season, three (Boswell,Oumar Ballo and Pelle Larsson) are back. The Wildcats also added a trio of transfers who averaged 35.7 (Caleb Love), 22.2 (Keshad Johnson) and 19.8 (Jaden Bradley) minutes, respectively.
Throw in some talented freshmen, as well as three lightly used second-year players, and there’s plenty of options. There were numerous lineup combinations during Arizona’s 3-game overseas tour in August, and plenty others will emerge during the run-up to the Nov. 6 opener against Morgan State.
In other words, there’s plenty of time to figure out how to make the most of all this potential depth.
“The one thing that I’m really being mindful of is I’m not putting people in boxes or cornering them or anything like that,” Lloyd said. “I’m letting their development and evolution as a player show. And then from there we’ll start making decisions, how we’re going to mix and match lineups and things like that. What I try not to do is get ahead of myself, because I think these boys are working really hard. And I think they’re making great progress. I want them to continue on that path.”