There are expectations that come with being an Arizona basketball fan. If the team has a successful start to a season, fans instead focus on a lengthy run in March. Offseasons bring the expectation of early entrants into the NBA draft, which turn fans’ expectations to the elite recruits that are supposed to replace departing talent. And just like that, in today’s landscape of college basketball, incoming freshmen become the new catalyst for a Final Four birth.
This season is the first time in a while that Arizona’s roster has no locks for the first round. Some mock drafts don’t list any Wildcats, while many have Kaleb Tarczewski ranging from the late first to second rounds. Despite the lack of an elite, one and done type player, expectations for Arizona remain high.
Overlooked by the excitement of the incoming freshmen and multiple transfers that will shape this year’s roster, is perhaps Arizona’s biggest enigma: sophomore center Dusan Ristic. Before the return of Kaleb Tarczewski for his senior season, most pundits penciled Ristic in as the heir apparent at the center position. But Tarczewski’s return, along with the additions of Ryan Anderson and Mark Tollefsen, highlight the uncertainty of rosters in college basketball.
Though his role may seem similar to his freshman campaign, Ristic is looking to build upon a successful first season. Those familiar with Ristic’s journey to Tucson know he’s an embodiment of Sean Miller’s famous phrase, honor the process. It’s been nearly eighteen months since Ristic moved from Serbia to Wichita, Kansas, with a limited grasp of the English language. His choice was bold, spurning the opportunity to receive pro-level contracts in professional leagues overseas in order to gain exposure and experience playing in the United States.
Thus far the decision seems like a great choice for Ristic, who was able to practice with high caliber players and work with one of the best coaches in the college landscape. His path for minutes aren’t as simple as originally thought, though his high IQ offensively and improvements on the defensive end should lead to a vital role on this year’s team.
This year’s Wildcats project to have more firepower on the perimeter than recent Sean Miller teams, which gives Ristic the potential to show off his polished low post game, as well as expand his opportunities in pick and roll situations, having shot 4/5 from beyond the three-point line last season. Regardless, his offensive prowess and scoring punch will be an important part of Arizona basketball as they look to exceed expectations in 2015 and reach that elusive Final Four.