By Kaelen Jones
Tucson — In recent weeks, Arizona freshman forward Lauri Markkanen has been, as his head coach Sean Miller has alluded to before, on the cusp of breaking out.
The No. 16 Wildcats’ (17-2, 5-0 Pac-12) 91-75 win over the Arizona State Sun Devils may have provided the coming out party Miller has spoken of. The 7-foot forward from Finland tallied a career-high 30 points (12 of 18 field goals, 4 of 7 from 3-point) and eight rebounds in 30 minutes of play.
“He’s all business,” Miller said following the win. “There is no screwing around with him.”
The Sun Devils could tell you so, too. Just ask ASU starting point guard Tra Holder, a 6-foot junior who at times found himself tasked with defending Markkanen along the perimeter.
“Markkanen, he’s a future NBA player,” Holder said. “There’s not much you can do around your size.”
ASU head coach Bobby Hurley spoke respectfully of forward’s skill set.
“Markkanen can hurt you in so many different ways,” Hurley said. “With his shooting, he went off-the-dribble, the tip-ins. He’s a very, very complete basketball player.”
Markkanen proved a problem for the Sun Devils to handle on offense and defense, inside the post and out on the perimeter.
“Lauri was spectacular tonight,” Miller said. “That was a big challenge we gave him. He had 30 points and no turnovers, in 30 minutes. He is above and beyond for a freshman. He is obviously an incredible offensive player, who really is improving on defense.”
A projected lottery pick, Markkanen’s most exceptional trait may be his maturity, a characteristic peers acknowledge as something that stands out.
“His game is very advanced,” Hurley said of the Arizona star. “He’s a very mature player.”
“He loves the game, and he is here to win and become better. He never compromises that,” says Miller. “He is unflappable in terms of his demeanor and his effort. He is one of the great kids and hard workers that I have had the pleasure of coaching.
“He came here for a clear purpose, and that purpose is never compromise; everyone knows it.”