2012--13 RECORD 27--8 CONF 12--6 (2ND) WHAT'S BACK MINUTES: 44.3% POINTS: 39.9% REBOUNDS: 44.1%
A late bloomer who entered Pittsburgh's Chartiers Valley High at 5'4" and left at 6 feet, T.J. McConnell didn't get a lot of long looks from college recruiters. But being small did have one big advantage: Opponents usually didn't notice him until after he had swiped the ball. "Even when I got bigger, it was easy for me to get in the passing lanes and get steals," says McConnell, now 6'1" and 195 pounds and a junior point guard for the Wildcats. In each of his two seasons at Duquesne, McConnell averaged 2.8 steals, which was third nationally in 2011--12. After sitting out a year as a transfer, he will be the chief thief and tone-setter for an Arizona defense that promises to be one of best in the country. "T.J. takes defense very, very seriously," says coach Sean Miller. "When your point guard is like that, it can be contagious."
McConnell is also the first reliable pass-first point guard Miller has had since he arrived in Tucson in 2009, as well as a threat from behind the arc: He made 43.2% of his threes two seasons ago. That fills a huge hole for the shooting-challenged Wildcats. "Our offense still needs to develop," says Miller, "but there are a lot of ways to score. We have guys who will thrive in transition, whether it's driving the basketball, getting second shots, getting fouled."
One such guy is five-star freshman forward Aaron Gordon, MVP of the 2013 McDonald's All-American game, whose ferocious dunks have drawn comparisons with Blake Griffin's and who grabbed a school-record 15.7 rebounds a game as a senior at San Jose's Archbishop Mitty High.
"Aaron is the best rebounder I have ever played with," says McConnell. "He is relentless on the boards, and he is relentless on defense. Everyone on this team works so hard, and that's what I love most about it. I love to win, too, and I think we have a great chance to do a lot of winning this year."
Projected Lineup (2012--13 STATS)
PG T.J. MCCONNELL‚Ä†
JR. 6'1" 11.4 PPG 5.5 APG
SG NICK JOHNSON*
JR. 6'3" 11.5 PPG 3.2 APG
SF AARON GORDON‚Ä°
FR. 6'9" 21.6 PPG 15.7 RPG
PF BRANDON ASHLEY*
SOPH. 6'8" 7.5 PPG 5.3 RPG
C KALEB TARCZEWSKI
SOPH. 7'0" 6.6 PPG 6.1 RPG
F RONDAE HOLLIS-JEFFERSON‚Ä°
FR. 6'7" 15.5 PPG 11.0 APG
G JORDIN MAYES
SR. 6'3" 2.8 PPG 0.9 APG
‚Ä†2011--12 DUQUESNE STATS
‚Ä°HIGH SCHOOL STATS
SEAN MILLER (5TH SEASON)
SI What will be the calling cards of this team?
SM We have a chance to be an outstanding rebounding team—maybe the best that we've had at Arizona. If you're an outstanding rebounding team, you have a chance to be in every game that you play.
SI Where have you seen the most improvement among your returning players?
SM Brandon Ashley invested a lot in his game over the summer. He's stronger and his shooting has improved. So I look for him to make a jump in performance.
SI What position will Aaron Gordon play?
SM He's a great rebounder for somebody his size. He can really handle the ball in the open court. From a defensive perspective, he's ahead of the curve. He can guard two through five, even one through five. So regardless of the combinations of players that he's on the court with, Aaron Gordon is a small forward for us.
[The following text appears within a chart. Please see hardcopy or PDF for actual chart.]
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (MILLER)
ARIZONA ATHLETICS (MCCONNELL)
PORTER BINKS (MASCOT)