Coming off the Wildcats 95-50 over the NAU Lumberjacks the headliners remain the stud freshman playing big minutes like Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett as well as the senior leaders Mark Lyons and Solomon Hill.
However, there is one key piece to the Wildcats roster that seems to be over looked through the strong 4-0 start. That is sophomore guard Nick Johnson.
Through four games, the Arizona native is fourth on the team in scoring putting up just over ten points per game, leads the team in steals with eight and has an assist to turnover ratio of twenty to four.
“He’s really developed a great floor game,” said Arizona head coach Sean Miller after Wednesday night’s win over NAU. “He is one of those guys that is really fun to play with. He is engaged in every phase of the game.”
Johnson burst on to the scene when he first set foot in Tucson last season. However as the team battled injuries, suspensions and other forms of adversity over the course of the year, Johnson found his role on the team to be very important and constantly changing which is very difficult on a freshman. All of that has only made Johnson stronger in the eyes of his coach.
“He has improved tremendously from last year,” explained Miller. “But that’s a by-product of playing a freshman in the role that he had. You know, he really grew, he knew what it took a lot more, had a great off-season and there is no question he is a much better player right now than he was a year ago and that it all his credit.”
“He also is ego-less when he plays,” Miller added. “Its not about scoring for him and I think that compliments our team very well because he is always just trying to make good plays.”
One of the area’s of the game that Sean Miller is constantly harping on to improve is the defensive side of the ball. The team has progressively gotten better and better by the year under Miller and the team has had individual players emerge as defensive specialists. Former Wildcat Kyle Fogg had been that guy the last few seasons but now with him gone the team is still searching for someone new to fill that roll. Johnson’s name is the first that came to Miller’s mind.
“He is light years ahead defensively then where he was at any point last year,” Miller explained. “He learned a lot from Kyle (Fogg), he’s older, he’s stronger and Nick takes his defense very seriously.”
Since Arizona did not travel to one of the holiday invitationals or tournaments in Maui, New York or other destinations, they had the luxury of extra practice time back in Tucson. The extra time had a pre-season/training camp type feel that teams don’t ordinarily have the chance to have in November.
“We didn’t worry about how long our practices were,” said Miller. “Our guys have come and we’ve had some early morning practices, and really to a man they have come ready to work. We’ve come in as a team trying to get better.”
“Now December represents more games, higher competition and five of the games are going to be away from McKale,” added Miller. “We move to that next phase of our schedule.”
Johnson and the Wildcats next hit the road to Lubbock, Texas to face Texas Tech on Saturday.