With Gabe York’s athleticism and range from far beyond the three point line, few coaches in the country could afford not to give the freshman guard playing time, or perhaps even a spot in the starting lineup.
In Sean Miller’s program, he is the 10th man in a rotation that is as stocked in depth as any Arizona team in recently memory. York received just four minutes of action in the Cats’ opening game of the season.
What hindered Arizona in so many years past – a lack of skilled yet experienced bench players – is now the team’s most substantial advantage.
Take York’s position, shooting guard, for example. Sophomore Nick Johnson will likely start at the two for the time being but when it’s time for a substitution, Miller can either put in Kevin Parrom or Gabe York to sufficiently fill Johnson’s place. All three players have the ability to be difference makers the second they step on the floor.
To find the most recent Arizona team who possessed even close to the same quality to quantity ratio as this year’s, one would have to go back to the 2004-05 squad that made it oh-so-close to reaching the Final Four.
Those Cats were led by a trio of upperclassmen – Hassan Adams, Channing Frye, and Salim Stoudamire who each had NBA potential, although only one remains in the Association. But what made that team gel was the luxury of not needing to depend on just one or two players to provide the bulk of the scoring. Serbian big man Ivan Radenovic and Philly shooting guard Mustafa Shakur rounded out the starting five and both provided the team with a scoring average of over eight points per game.
Coming off the bench were Chris Rodgers, Jawann McClellan, Isaiah Fox, Kirk Walters, Brett Brielmaier, and to a lesser extent, Daniel Dillon, and Jesus Verdejo.
The latter eight names would rightfully sound alien to anyone not enamored with UA hoops but each played a part in getting the Cats within seconds of a berth to college basketball’s Promised Land.
When Adams, Frye, or Stoudamire took a breather, a significant player was always standing at the scorers table, ready to check in. The “second team” wasn’t needed to outplay the opposing five as much as to maintain the margin, like the guy swimming the third leg of an Olympic relay race.
While it is far too early to make clear comparisons between the two teams, depth is one too obvious to ignore. With a bench that is at the moment made of York, McDonald’s All-American Brandon Ashley, and returnees Parrom, Angelo Chol, and Jordin Mayes,, the 2012-13 Cats shouldn’t see a dramatic drop in talent when the starters leave, like was the case eight years ago.
As Ashley put it after scoring 12 points off the bench in Arizona’s opening season win against Charleston Southern, “Whether I start or come in later in the game, I want to make the most of it. Starting is not the most important thing.”
When there is as much talent top to bottom, who starts any given game for UA this season means little. If Gabe York is feeling it from deep in the closing minutes of a tightly contested matchup, Miller won’t hesitate to keep him on the floor.