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Who Will be Arizona’s Leader?

July 29th, 2014 News 7 Comments

NCAA Basketball: UCLA at Arizona
Ivy Hunt-Ashram

Last year, Nick Johnson was the emotional leader of the team. As one of the most experienced juniors in the country, Johnson was able to lead by example as he had been through it all before.

Aaron Gordon was the defensive leader of the team, as he not only led the NCAA in defensive win shares, he was the backbone of Arizona’s top ranked defense. He along with Johnson would cover the opponent’s best scorers and his defensive intensity rubbed off on his teammates.

Both of them will be cashing NBA checks soon, meaning Arizona has to be quick in reassigning a head to the monster that is the 2014-15 Wildcats.

Based strictly on games played in an Arizona uniform, Kaleb Tarczewski is the elder statesman. A 7-footer with touch, Tarczewski would likely be the featured player on just about any other team in the country. His combination of strength, size, and skill are unmatched in the Pac-12.

But Zeus won’t be the leader of next year’s team. He’s not the vocal type who will rally the troops, and it’s not easy for a player to put the team on his back when he’s reliant on others to get him the ball in scoring position. Tarczewski is one of Arizona’s best players, but he won’t be the leader.

TJ McConnell is the man that makes the show happen. He has the ball on a string, has eyes in the back of his head, and plays gritty defense. He’s the most important piece of Arizona’s offense because no one else can distribute the ball like he can. Without McConnell in the game, Arizona’s offense sputters.

But McConnell won’t be next year’s leader either. While he has the magnetic personality and humble demeanor that creates a positive locker room environment, McConnell was at his worst when he tried to do too much. A team leader has to be able to carry the team, and until McConnell sorts out his offensive game he won’t be able to do that.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is possibly Arizona’s most physically talented player, and he came on strong toward the end of his freshman year. By all accounts, he should be a lottery pick in next year’s NBA Draft. But Hollis-Jefferson, despite his immense talent and energy, is still an incomplete player due to his offensive limitations and inexperience.

Some of that also applies to freshman Stanley Johnson, though he enters college as a well-rounded player and reliable offensive threat. He could even challenge to lead Arizona in scoring. But like Hollis-Jefferson, he’s just too green to put a top 5 team in the nation on his back. When it’s crunch time and the stakes are high, experience is crucial.

Unless you can’t see the picture attached to this article, you should have already known that Brandon Ashley is the answer. That’s not a shocking revelation by any means. But if his injury caused any doubt in his impact on next year’s team, those thoughts are soon to be squashed.

Ashley is Arizona’s most complete and most versatile player. He’s dynamic on offense, with the ability to shoot from three point distance. That quality alone will make him one of the Wildcats’ most crucial players. Long distance shooting will be of paramount importance next year, and getting it from an atypical position will be a huge asset. And since Ashley can also put the ball on the floor and get to the basket, he becomes very tricky to guard.

He’s also dynamic on defense, with the toughness to defend the interior and the length and agility to contain penetration. One of the most unfortunate parts of Ashley’s injury was that it came at a time when he was just starting to come into his own defensively. If he can continue on that upward trajectory, Ashley projects as a great defender.

But what makes Ashley the natural fit as team leader is his fiery personality. His intensity and killer instinct are qualities that will allow him to take over games and carry Arizona through the rough patches. He has the talent, the mindset, and the motivation. Don’t be surprised if Ashley reminds you of Derrick Williams out there.

Last year will always be remembered as a season of “what could have been” with a healthy Ashley. Next season is Ashley’s chance to rewrite the story and accomplish what he came to Arizona to do: win a National Championship.

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7 Responses to “Who Will be Arizona’s Leader?”

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  1. Wyo

    July 29, 2014

    I’d have to give it to TJMC. Personally i thought he showed more fire than anyone on the team last year. He gets more excited for a teammate making a huge dunk or big basket than himself, and is not afraid to get on someone’s ass in the huddle if they make a mistake. Brandan does show a bit of that but seems more like the lead by example type to me.

    • Garrett

      August 4, 2014

      TJ is the leader. Even this article says he “is the man that makes the show happen.” I agree with all of the points made above about his enthusiasm being contagious, he makes the offense tick, and he was our grittiest defender, though Nick and Aaron got more praise because their defense was more highlight-worthy. Even last year, he was more valuable to the team than, I would argue, any other player. The offense stalled when he went out.

  2. Jeff

    July 30, 2014

    TJ. He’s vocal and always thoroughly engaged every second on the floor on offense and defense.

  3. Burkhart

    July 30, 2014

    This article just got me so freakin’ pumped for this season. Our starting 5 consists of 4 1st round draft picks, 3 of whom never lost last year when they played together, and one tough as nails point guard who can shoot. I’m assuming Kadeem Allen is going to shred it off the bench along with Pitts and York.

    Can’t wait for Red/ Blue!

  4. Jason Durolet

    July 30, 2014

    TJ will be the leader

  5. Ben Jam-in

    August 5, 2014

    I love this website and these authors! Keep up the good work. UA is Point Guard U!!!

  6. serialchilla

    August 6, 2014

    Every year this discussion surrounds college sports in general and to some degree even pro sports.

    Who will lead this team??

    It always drives me crazy. You know who leads this team? Sean Miller… you know why? because its his program, his system, his recruits, his job.

    This is true of every coach in collegiate sports, even if they don’t all do a great job at it. Great coaches build a system, and beyond that their interactions with players from recruiting all the way up til graduation or the draft shape the mentality of the team. Truly great coaches win consistently regardless of talent because their system is respected by the players (often this ends up creating talent out of nothing as well which is another mark of a great coach), and even selfish players with nothing but dollar signs in their eyes can be convinced by these coaches that nothing can help their nba dreams more than just playing out every game in the system designed to win by the coach. Thanks to the Spurs, this may be even easier to make an 18yr old understand now than ever before.

    I understand why strong personality and charismatic players are needed on the court, but their job is not to lead the team, it’s at best to help players who strayed from the system or who are in a mental funk snap out of it and get back to doing things the way it was taught, in essence be an extension of Miller on the court. Those are leadership qualities, and thats part of what you get from participating in team sports, but they do not make you a leader. I know this is basically one huge steaming pile of semantics, but i think all you need to do is go to one game with Miller coaching and you know who leads the team. He’s the loudest person in the arena, he talks to every player on the court more than any player on the court does. He doesnt just pick apart what they do wrong or make tactical comments, but he also is concerned with the mental stability of the team and tries really hard to keep everyones head screwed on straight. If you are lucky to sit close enough to actually hear the players talking among themselves on the court you know they often repeat the same stuff Miller has been feeding them from the sideline.

    Play like a team, play for the team, win.


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