A lot has been said about five star recruit Terrance Ferguson’s decision to eschew college and play professional basketball in Australia. While it certainly is a big loss, the Wildcats still have some five star players who are ready to carry the load going into the 2016-17 season.
Perhaps the biggest silver lining to Ferguson’s departure is that it opens up playing time in what was looking like a crowded wing rotation. And no player stands to gain more from that redistribution of minutes than freshman Rawle Alkins. Here’s a look at the factors that will allow Alkins to play a significant role as a freshman at Arizona.
At 6-4 and 200 pounds, Alkins is a physical freak. It’s a rarity that a freshman can have a college-ready body before ever stepping foot on campus, but that’s exactly what Alkins brings to the table. And not only does he possess physical strength, he’s a fluid athlete who can keep up with quick footed shooting guards and small forwards.
Wildcat fans saw what an advantage it was to have a strength mismatch on the wing last year with Stanley Johnson, now of the Detroit Pistons. The benefits are apparent on both offense and defense, where opponents can be neutralized by a player’s physicality.
Alkins fits that mold. He’s quick enough to stay in front of opposing guards and forwards, yet he’s also strong enough to put a body on them and assert his will. And on offense, he has the strength to bully his way to the rim, absorbing contact and finishing with defenders on his back.
That physical readiness for the college game is what will help secure minutes in Sean Miller’s rotation as a freshman. As we’ve seen before, Miller favors players that can guard multiple positions, and Alkins will certainly have the physical tools to do so.
Arizona will enter next year as a team without a defined identity. The Wildcats will welcome several new faces with four new freshman as well as redshirt freshman Ray Smith all slated for meaningful roles.
Because of all the young blood on the roster, one of the biggest challenges will be finding out who exactly they are as a team. Especially early in the season, Arizona could go through some ups and downs as players figure out their roles.
That kind of adversity can be a major roadblock for players, slowing their development on the court. But no one handles adversity like Alkins, who has an unrelenting, Brooklyn bred toughness. A true bulldog type player, Alkins is as mentally tough as he is physically.
When the waters get choppy for Arizona, Alkins has the toughness to steady the ship. When opponents deliver jabs, Alkins is the type of player that responds with a haymaker. Like so many New York born players before him, Alkins has a never say die attitude that allows him to thrive in unfavorable circumstances.
During the period of time when the roster and rotation are still shaking out, Alkins is one player that has the mental makeup to solidify his position.
Miller loves players that can contribute in different ways. Versatility has been a common theme among many of the most successful players in the Miller era, and that should continue with Alkins.
While Alkins’ combination of strength and speed is ideal for the small forward position, he also has the ball handling ability and quickness to play minutes at shooting guard. Being able to overpower 2’s while being too fast for 3’s is something that can give Arizona an advantage when he’s on the floor.
Alkins is good with the ball in his hands, allowing him to break opponents down off the dribble and finish in the paint with his wide, strong frame. He can also slash to the basket off the ball, making him a dangerous weapon for Arizona’s point guards to carve up defenses with. But he’s also a capable three point shooter, which makes him a very tough matchup for defenders who will want to sag off and protect the rim.
And on defense, Alkins could even spend time guarding point guards or smaller power forwards. While many players on the roster have the ability to play multiple positions on offense, Alkins’ potential to switch as a defender makes him all the more valuable.
While roles won’t be defined until normal practices are in full gear, Alkins appears poised to take on major responsibility as a freshman. With a great combination of physical and mental tools, Alkins’ potential is sky high.