Is anyone else beyond amped that we got a chance to see the 2014-15 Wildcats take the court over the weekend? Naturally, fans’ minds are swimming with thoughts about the coming season. But before you get ahead of yourselves, keep in mind that what we saw on Saturday was a glorified pick up game. It was a test run in front of a live audience, like a pace lap at a race. It was just to get the engines warm.
While the true makeup of the team will be revealed in practices, we still got a rough idea of what to expect. One area that remains unclear is the starting shooting guard position. While many have penciled freshman phenom Stanley Johnson into the lineup, the Red-Blue game didn’t provide any decisiveness either way.
Before we go on, you have to keep in mind that the question is not “Will Stanley Johnson start?” He will probably start because his overall talent and skillset gives the team the best chance to win, but is he ready to step into that role from day one?
Arizona has been spoiled by having impact freshman hit the ground running. From Mike Bibby winning a National Championship in his first year, all the way to recent freshman stars like Jerryd Bayless, Derrick Williams, and Aaron Gordon, the Wildcats have been blessed to get major production out of their newcomers.
But it would be silly to think that’s the norm. Not every freshman can come in and lead a team like Bibby, score like Bayless, or gel defensively like Gordon. It’s an almost impossible request to ask a freshman, but time and time again the Wildcats have been lucky to roster players who stepped up to the call.
So we’ve come to expect it. I can already imagine the type of message board blather we’ll have to go through if Johnson struggles out of the gate.
What we saw in the Red-Blue game should give us confidence about Johnson’s chances of being an impact player from day one, but there were still questions. We saw his strength and tenacity around the rim, but we also saw some questionable decision making. We saw him explode in transition, but we also saw him hoist a few ill advised attempts.
He looked like a freshman. A very physically gifted freshman, but a freshman nonetheless.
It’s so unfair to have the expectations we have for him. He hasn’t played a single minute at the college level, he just started learning the college game, and we’re already expecting him to carry the torch without missing a beat.
So is Johnson ready to start? It might not matter if Gabe York and Kadeem Allen don’t show more on the court. He’ll have to.
What matters is giving him the time to adjust and develop, and to understand that there could be some growing pains along the way.
I’d like to see a committee approach to the shooting guard position in which Johnson, York, and Allen all play meaningful roles. You might not think there’s enough minutes there, but considering that Johnson can slide to the small forward and even power forward, it can work.
I don’t question Johnson’s talent or winning background. I’m just weary of placing too much burden on the shoulders of an inexperienced player.
Johnson could very well be Arizona’s best player this year, and he has a pretty good chance of being the first Wildcat selected in next year’s NBA Draft.
But he needs time to become that player. Arizona has the talent to make that transition smooth, which could pay major dividends later on in the season.