Even with all the hype and excitement surrounding the Arizona Wildcats this preseason, point guard T.J. McConnell found something was lacking inside the program recently.
Assistant coach Book Richardson’s nonstop personality, valued in practice and on the recruiting trail, was gone. He missed a month of practice with an undisclosed health-related issue before coming back Thursday. His return was announced Friday.
“Coach Book is one of those guys who brings energy every day and without him the gym’s a little more quiet,” McConnell said. “We obviously missed him. We’re really happy to have him back.”
Richardson left the Wildcats on Sept. 27 just as full practices began, for what he said was “not a life-or-death situation, but nonetheless very important.” He did not return a message Friday but in a statement thanked UA coach Sean Miller, athletic director Greg Byrne and his family for support during his absence.
“I’m happy and thankful to be returning to the team at this time,” Richardson said. “It’s great to be back, and I’m looking forward to a successful season.”
Miller said in the UA statement that the program was glad to have Richardson back just before the Wildcats host Augustana (S.D.) College for an exhibition game Monday. The Wildcats are also hosting junior college recruit Kadeem Allen of Wilmington, N.C., this weekend.
“We’re excited to have coach Richardson back with our program,” Miller said. “His unique energy and enthusiasm are huge contributions to our program on a daily basis.”
Bracing for change
After Pac-12 coaches met last week and discussed how officials are expected to allow offensive players more freedom of movement, Miller took the message home. According to McConnell and Gabe York, the two UA players made available for comment to media on Friday, the Wildcats have been working in practice to adjust.
Defensive players are expected to be called more strictly for handchecking violations while the block/charge equation now requires a defender to be set earlier in order to avoid a blocking foul.
“They’ve made a huge emphasis on it,” York said. “You can’t put one hand (on a offensive player) any more defensively, so we have to get better at moving our feet, finding ways to get over screens and not getting hit on the screen without using our hands. It’s definitely going to be a challenge for us.”
York said he didn’t agree with the changes but said he expected they would eventually lead to higher scoring. He said the rules will also demand more communication within a defense.
“When you come off a screen you can’t use your hands,” York said. “You’ve gotta trust (a teammate) that he’s going to stay until you can get back.”
Probable lineup no surprise
In its official pregame notes, UA listed a probable starting lineup for its exhibition game Monday that has been widely expected: McConnell, Nick Johnson, Aaron Gordon, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski.
Gordon is likely to start at small forward, though Miller says he will also play power forward and that his minute totals at each position may ultimately depend on how other players do.
Gordon’s ability to play both forward spots is one reason the UA lineup also has some versatility.
“We could be really fast with three guards or we could be very big with all the size we have,” McConnell said. “I think we have a couple of identities. It just depends on how we use it.”
Pushing for Allen
Allen may make a decision on a four-year school in the near future after visiting the Wildcats this weekend, but Arizona’s involvement has not been quick.
Jay Cyriac, an assistant coach at Hutchinson Community College, said Friday that Arizona was actually the first four-year school to offer Allen a scholarship last spring. Allen then impressed at Jerry Mullen’s widely-regarded JUCO showcase in July.
Cyriac said during that event, Miller was joined by ASU coach Herb Sendek, Kansas’ Bill Self, Marquette’s Buzz Williams and Memphis’ Josh Pastner on the sidelines.
Now Allen is visiting UA and may take a visit to Kansas, but is not planning on drawing the process out much longer.
“One of the things he said was he may have to get it over with,” Cyriac said. “Arizona has done a great job of recruiting him. Sean came out two weeks ago and (assistant coach) Damon (Stoudamire) came last week. When Sean came in, he realized how big that was. … I think he’ll come back (from Arizona) impressed.”