“Whatever precautions you take so the photograph will look like this or that, there comes a moment when the photograph surprises you. It is the other’s gaze that wins out and decides.” -Jacques Derrida
Sportswriters are among the best in the world at telling athletes what they can or can’t do, and what they will or won’t become. It’s part of the job to categorize and evaluate, but let’s be honest, us keyboard monkeys end up pigeonholing players more often than not. When you make up your mind about a player, it’s hard to shake that perception.
That’s why writers, fans, and even coaches are surprised when players exceed what we expected of them. No matter how closely you analyze the many moving parts that make up a basketball team, you can never really know how it’s all going to come together. What appears to be a less significant piece of the puzzle may end up being much bigger than you anticipated when March rolls around.
Some would argue it’s those surprises that make college basketball as fun as it is.
So who will surprise for Arizona this year? Who will challenge our perceptions and biases about what they can do? Here’s a brief rundown of the candidates.
Gabe York, Junior, SG- If there’s a player on this team who should have a chip on his shoulder, it’s York. He came into the program as a top 50 recruit who was the best player at the illustrious adidas Nations Camp when he was a high school senior, an elite shooter with elite athleticism. Fast forward two years, and York hasn’t seen nearly as much playing time as people expected.
And this year, as a junior, people are still writing him off. Most people have already penciled him in for another reserve role. But is this an example of how our preconceived notions can lead us astray?
York’s role is set to expand, but more importantly he should have the confidence and experience to take the next step as a player. With two full seasons under his belt, he knows what is expected of him and has had time to mature both physically and mentally. It’s never been a question of talent with York, just a matter of putting it all together on the court. He should be in a position to do that this year.
If he starts the season nailing three pointers, the other guards on the roster need to look out because York will be taking their minutes. What this team needs more than anything is a consistent, potent three point threat to open up the floor for all of the Wildcats’ talented height. Keep an eye on how York’s season progresses — he could be the extra piece that gets Arizona to Sean Miller’s first Final Four.
Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Freshman, PG- Nobody gets counted out more than the little guy, which is why the little guys on the court are usually the most talented and fierce players. Jackson-Cartwright, a 5’10 guard from California, has been doubted for his height and slender frame. It’s a criticism that’s been following him his entire career.
But it hasn’t stopped him yet.
Jackson-Cartwright is as pure of a point guard as there is, with incredible facilitating instincts that would be great for a player many years older. He has an intuitive understanding of setting up teammates, and seems to operate a few moves ahead of the defense like all great point guards do. He’s a great ball handler who can get into the teeth of the defense and deliver precision passes on target, on time. There is no question he will be an excellent college player.
Of course, most people are expecting that to take some time. As a freshman, most fans are not expecting much out of PJC with a senior TJ McConnell running the show. But they could be in for a major surprise.
Jackson-Cartwright won’t have to get big minutes to make his impact. Last year when McConnell was on the bench, Arizona’s offense went limp. It was a clear chink in the armor. But with Jackson-Cartwright’s ability to run the offense, Arizona could have 40 minutes of play with no drop off in offensive execution. That would be a huge advantage in the Wildcats’ quest for a National Championship.
Craig Victor, Freshman, F- It’s pretty easy to tell when a player will become a fan favorite. Certain guys just have the personality and charisma that endears them to the fanbase. Victor is one of those guys.
An infectiously positive locker room presence, Victor is the type of player that raises morale. He also happens to be an immensely talented forward who has an advanced scoring touch.
On this Arizona team, with so much talent in the post, there’s not a clear path to playing time. But that could be the perfect set up for Arizona’s biggest surprise of the season.
If Victor pushes for minutes off the bench, Arizona’s post rotation will be more than exceptional. Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski will anchor the team, but Victor could potentially carve out a role as the back up power forward. Not only would this give the Wildcats another weapon, but it would help keep Ashley and Tarczewski fresh for the NCAA Tournament.
Eliott Pitts, Sophomore, SG/SF- Thrust into action because of Ashley’s season ending injury, Pitts performed admirably in his baptism by fire. More than anything he showed the ability to execute his role and hit open shots, two skills that will take a player a long way.
In his second year, Pitts may not have as much opportunity playing behind Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Stanley Johnson, Kadeem Allen, as well as York. But like York, Pitts has the ability to stretch the floor with his long range shot. At 6-5, Pitts also has the height to fill in for the shooting guard or small forward.
As a smart, coachable player, Pitts has already earned Miller’s trust. If the lineup needs a boost in outside shooting, Pitts could be the man for the job.