Seemingly within minutes of being shocked by Buffalo in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Pac-12 champion Arizona’s starting lineup was gone.
Center Dusan Ristic and point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright had exhausted their eligibility, while guards Rawle Alkins and Allonzo Trier and big man Deandre Ayton had previously made it known their were turning pro. Along with senior reserve Keanu Pinder, the Wildcats had six holes on its roster to fill and nobody in line to fill them.
The Wildcats managed to rally on the recruiting front, signing three prep prospects—including 4-star guard Brandon Williams, who had previously been committed to the program but backed off that pledge in March—and picking up a pair of graduate transfers in former Pittsburgh forward Ryan Luther and ex-Alabama and Samford guard Justin Coleman.
That group of newcomers figures to play a key role for Arizona in 2018-19, but coach Sean Miller believes his returning players (including one who didn’t get to see the court last season) will be the ones who determine how the Wildcats fare.
“As exciting as it is to add that influx of talent that wasn’t here last year, at a desperate time, it’s those that have already been a part of our program that will impact what we do the most,” Miller said Thursday, per the Arizona Daily Star.
Topping that list is junior forward Chase Jeter, who sat out 2017-18 following his transfer from Duke. A former 5-star recruit, the 6-foot-10 Jeter started six games in two seasons with the Blue Devils but was the odd man out on a pair of ultra-talented teams.
Jeter joined Arizona last summer, which meant he spent last season training against the Wildcats’ other frontcourt standouts, something Miller believes should help him immensely.
“He played against and with Deandre and Dusan last year every day,” Miller said. “I don’t know if Chase missed a practice. He’s hungry to have a big role, which he’s going to have. He’s hungry to play again.”
Of Arizona’s other returning players, only junior guard Dylan Smith logged more than 400 total minutes. Along with Forward Ira Lee and guards Emmanuel Akot, Alex Barcello and Brandon Randolph that group combined to log just over 23 percent of available minutes in 2017-18.
“Those that are returning have big summers in front of them,” Miller said. “It’s hard to judge them on this past year because we were so top-heavy.”