Sean Miller’s Confidence Give Freshmen High Expectations


Most coaches would be weary of playing true freshmen in the starting lineup or having them coming off the bench first.

When you’re Sean Miller though and bring in some of the top recruits in the country, who fit the system and play with character, there’s no reason not to trust them. That’s exactly what the Arizona Wildcats head coach has done with Stanley Johnson, Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Dusan Ristic.

Johnson has been labeled as a one-and-done throughout his entire recruitment process. His physique and style of play push him far above others. This wasn’t always the case for him, but for whatever reason, it seemed as if Johnson wasn’t down for Miller’s system. While clapping for the ball, putting up questionable shots, it was clear that Johnson was still learning.

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Since the Maui Invitational, he’s changed for the better, taking over games completely on his own. Johnson’s progression is already much further than Aaron Gordon’s, who didn’t really come out of his shell until Brandon Ashley went down.

Should Johnson continue to progress at this pace, the freshman could very well find himself in the top three of the NBA Draft. After all, it takes just a few strong tournament games to make the nation fall in love with you, something Johnson is very capable of.

Next comes Jackson-Carwright, the 5-foot-9 point guard who had a lot of questions surrounding him prior to arriving on campus. Last February, he admitted to academic misconduct, which cut his senior year short at Loyola High School.

From the beginning of the season, Miller has trusted the feisty guard to relieve T.J. McConnell of some minutes and run the offense. His size and speed allows him too weave through defenses, finding dribble and passing lanes even McConnell couldn’t find. Jackson-Cartwright doesn’t fill the stat sheet, nor is he expected to, but some of the plays he makes gives everyone a lot to look forward to down the road.

Ristic’s commitment really came out of nowhere. The 7-foot-1 245 pound center from Serbia adds so much more than height. Miller is able to have a rotation with a 7-footer in at all times.

Ristic is a far better player on offense than he is defense, which fully complements Kaleb Tarczewski, who has been a presence on defense, while developing his offensive game. The big guy might just be seen as a more valuable draft prospect compared to Tarczewski as well. Ristic, just 19 years old, has apparently shown more promise to most NBA scouts.

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Now there is another freshman on the team who hardly ever sees the court in Craig Victor. Victor, a 6-foot-9 forward out of Louisiana just hasn’t found his rhythm on the court. It’s not as if there isn’t room for him either, as Ashley has no true substitute at power forward. Hollis-Jefferson is typically sliding down to the four spot when Ashley checks out.

Having Victor in to give the Wildcats true power forward size and strength would be tremendous, but he’s clearly not ready. Given some time, maybe even as soon as this season, he can find a role off the bench just as Elliot Pitts did this last season and just as Gabe York did in his freshman campaign.

The great thing about Miller is that he doesn’t look at stats. There is more to the game of basketball than just stats. You can’t find hustle, defense and movement on a individual stat line, but you can find it on the court from Miller’s team.

Expect each of the four freshman to get progressively better to be big parts of this team come tournament time.