Brandon Ashley came to Arizona to win a National Championship. He said so much when PGU interviewed him three years ago, the afternoon of his commitment.
Fast forward to the present, and Ashley still carries himself with the same calm confidence. He accompanied head coach Sean Miller to the annual Pac-12 Media Day, which showcases coaches and players from each of the conference’s teams.
Of course, the hot topic was Ashley’s return from last year’s season ending injury.
“At this point I’m 100%, and I’m back out there doing everything with the team,” he said.
Ashley went on to explain that despite the injury, his focus on basketball never swayed.
“With the injury itself, it was definitely tough going down, especially that being one of the first times coming back home to play,” he said. “But as soon as I heard the news that I’d be out for the season my main focus was rehabbing, making sure I got back healthy but at the same time maintaining that same focus with my team and making sure I was still there for them and trying to be a leader, trying to be vocal in the background.”
As the team’s representative at the event, clearly Ashley will be a leader for a talented group and Miller echoed that sentiment.
“Not only do we welcome him back as a basketball player, but we also welcome him as one of our team’s leaders and most experienced players,” Miller said of the star junior.
Leadership will be one of Arizona’s strong points, as Arizona will have Ashley, fellow juniors Kaleb Tarczewski and Gabe York, as well as senior TJ McConnell in the rotation. Both Miller and Ashley were quick to heap praise on McConnell, who many feel is Arizona’s linchpin player.
“He definitely makes the game easier for you out there on the court,” Ashley said. “It’s nice to play with somebody that you’ve built a relationship with, that you have that chemistry with on the court as well. He definitely knows how to run a team.”
With McConnell running the point and Tarczewski in the middle, Arizona has great reliability at two of the most important positions. The combination of Ashley and Tarczewski in the post is also a rock solid combination, which Miller highlighted.
“When Brandon and Kaleb are in there together, it’s not easy to just turn around and shoot or drive,” Miller said. “Our rim is protected by great length and the size of our team is something we’re counting on a lot to become a very, very good defensive team.”
As the preseason favorite to win the conference, expectations are naturally high for the Wildcats.
“I think we have the makings of a team that can go on and do some great things,” Miller said. “It doesn’t happen in 12 days, especially when you’re welcoming such a big group of players. I think part of it is the quest of bringing everyone together.”