There is one question on the mind of Arizona basketball fans everywhere these days – Is Derrick Williams going pro or will he return for his junior run where he would potentially have a shot at the national title?
It is a very important question, no doubt about it. But is the Wildcats' success in the 2011-12 season fully dependent on the return of its star player? While most people will say Williams' return is vital for a title run, the reality is that – in today's world of college basketball – UA could potentially be a championship contender even if he goes pro.
It's pretty obvious that the return of Williams will only make things tougher for the competition next season, but in modern-day college basketball, teams are able to get to the Final Four with instant-impact freshmen and strong team play.
Considering that UA has a recruiting class coming in that will make most other programs jealous, Arizona – with or without Williams – should be right in the thick of things in 2011-12.
For starters, Josiah Turner is the type of point guard this team sorely lacks. That's not meant to take anything away from Momo Jones, who came into his own down the stretch and in the postseason. Jones is a different type of player that benefits the squad in different ways than Turner will.
Turner has a quick first-step and has the ability to take his defender to the rack each time he gets his hands on the ball. He will only be a freshman, but there won't be too many guards in the Pac-12 that will be able to guard him one-on-one. Given Arizona's ability as a team to knock down a three point shot, Turner's talents could open the game up for the outside shooters a lot more.
You also have to consider the potential impact of Nick Johnson at the two-guard position. The Wildcats do not have a wing player that possesses the athleticism that Johnson has. He should provide UA with yet another threat to get to the basket and make things happen.
Johnson is also a natural scorer, which is something else Arizona lacks along the perimeter. Johnson can create his own shot by losing his defender quickly. Like Turner, there probably won't be too many wing players in the Pac-12 that can shut Johnson down.
One of UA's biggest issues on both ends of the floor was post play. It was slightly more impressive on the offensive end, especially with Williams' ability to draw fouls in the paint with regularity. But the Wildcats lack size and no one on their current roster has a great, go-to post move.
Perhaps the additions of Angelo Chol and Sidiki Johnson will alleviate that problem. Chol is more of a defender at this point and is a bit raw. He has plenty of athleticism and showed the ability to finish at the high school level, but going up against tougher competition will undoubtedly make things a bit more complicated for a player still learning his way.
Chol will help in the paint defensively though. He set the national record for career blocks and considering the Wildcats had trouble defending in the paint this past season, his presence alone should improve that area dramatically.
Johnson is a physical player that could make an impact right off the bat considering the lack of depth along the frontline; especially if Williams leaves. Not to say he will replace Williams' production, but Johnson has a reputation of being more physical than the player guarding him and UA is going to need someone like that on its roster whether Williams stays or goes.
Another positive is that this squad will be littered with juniors next season. By the end of the season, Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom, Jones and even Kyryl Natyazhko gave fans a reason to be excited for 2011-12.
Hill's game got progressively better as the season grew older. By the end of the campaign, Hill looked as if everything was finally coming together for him on both ends of the floor. His confidence level certainly rose and he started taking advantage of opponents with his athleticism. Hill could be in for a breakout season next year as a junior.
Parrom emerged as the spark plug Arizona needed off the bench and was the squad's second best offensive player at times during the season. He improved his outside shot dramatically and, like Hill, his confidence only grew as the season progressed. As a junior, his role could expand dramatically.
Jones could be pushed by both Turner and Johnson for a starting job, but the soon-to-be junior will get significant playing time one way or another. His play against tougher squads (specifically a well-coached Duke team) was a sight for sore eyes among Wildcats' fans. As he gets more comfortable heading into his junior season, Jones could emerge as one of the better combo guards in the country next season.
Even Natyazhko began to show progress, even if it was just on the defensive end of the floor. He still struggled mightily on the offensive end, but with Arizona needing a presence in the middle on the defensive end of the floor, Natyazhko came through as the team's best post defender in the postseason.
Not many players are going to put in the time or work Natyazhko does and given how he stepped up on defense, he should be an important piece to the puzzle next season.
Retaining Williams is a priority for UA; that should go without saying, but the Wildcats are in very good shape for next season even if he decides to pursue his dream in the NBA. He won't be the only star player from a contending team to leave school early this season and there is more than enough talent to make up for his departure.
If he stays, the rest of college basketball should probably fear the Wildcats and for good reason. If he goes, then UA fans will wish him good luck, cherish the memories he gave them and move on to rooting for the next Arizona bunch that is stacked enough to make a deep tournament run once again.
UA can survive without Williams
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