These days the talk is all about star players and freshman phenoms. It comes with the territory of being a top 5 caliber team like Arizona, in order to sustain that status year after year a coach has to recruit the best talent in the country.
That often results in the spotlight centering on just a few individuals, which is unfortunate because we all know basketball is a team sport, and the team’s success is a product of a group effort.
Luckily for the Wildcats, they have a blend of star talent and players that will contribute over multiple years.
Two of the chief figures that have been overlooked so far are incoming freshmen Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Craig Victor. You know the roster is in good shape when you have two top 50 recruits that aren’t getting much attention.
Jackon-Cartwright, a diminutive but decisive game manger, actually enters Arizona at a position of need for the Wildcats.
Don’t get me wrong, Arizona has maybe the best point guard in the country in TJ McConnell. But after the feisty Pennsylvania native the Wildcats don’t have another true point guard besides PJC. If McConnell is in foul trouble or is simply running on fumes, someone will have to step up until he can get back out on the court.
None of Arizona’s talented wings are capable of running the offense. The same was true last year and the offense stalled when McConnell was out.
That’s where Jackson-Cartwright comes in.
He’s already talented enough to run the offense. Jackson-Cartwright has fantastic ball handling and passing skills, playing a very cerebral game. He’s lightning quick with the ball and uses his small stature to sneak into the teeth of the defense and create for others. With all of Arizona’s dangerous offensive weapons around him, Jackson-Cartwright’s play-making ability could be on display.
But there’s a major hurdle preventing the point guard from assuming significant minutes at the backup spot. He will be forced to defend bigger, more athletic players that may present matchup problems for Arizona if Jackson-Cartwright is a liability on the defensive end.
If Jackson-Cartwright wants to survive against the size disadvantage he will regularly face, he’ll have to become a more pesky defender who harasses ball handlers into turnovers before they can use his size against him. When Jackson-Cartwright adds that element to his game there will be little in his way of becoming a very good college point guard, but it may be too much to ask at this stage in his career.
Another freshman that isn’t getting much hype is forward Craig Victor. From Findlay Prep in Henderson, NV by way of Louisiana, Victor is an offensively talented forward with good strength.
Victor likes to score around the basket with his nimble feet and crafty moves, and can face up and shoot a midrange jumpshot as well. In some ways, his playing style might remind fans a little bit of current Wildcat Brandon Ashley and former Wildcat Derrick Williams.
Unlike Jackson-Cartwright though, Victor enters Arizona at one of the most loaded positions on the roster. Victor will start his career as a power forward, and there are very few minutes to be had with Ashley healthy again. Sophomore Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is also capable of filling in at power forward, as could Victor’s classmate Stanley Johnson.
It will be hard for Victor to earn significant minutes until his sophomore season, when a few of his teammates will likely enter the NBA. But until then he can still contribute to competitive practices, one of the hallmarks of a top level team. Having a player of his talent pushing the starters every day can only yield good things for the team.
Eventually Victor will develop into a very good college player, with the ability to play both forward positions. His offensive talent could help carry the team next year should Arizona experience a mass exodus of early entrants into the NBA Draft.
Despite not getting their share of the spotlight, both Jackson-Cartwright and Victor are important pieces to the current and future identity of the team. And even though they may not be getting the press that some of the other freshmen around the country have, they have a chance to make big impacts over their careers.