The departure of Derrick Williams from the Arizona basketball program leaves a gaping hole that the Wildcats must somehow figure out a way to fill. UA has a very impressive recruiting class coming in that contains four of the nation's best players at their respective positions.
But what must happen for Arizona to repeat or surpass its success from the 2010-11 season is the continuous improvement of the returning players on the roster. Williams was the clear leader of the team and it isn't going to be easy to replace what he brought to the team both on and off the court.
Now it's time for the rest of the 2009 class that Williams came to UA with to step their games up. Each player has potential and has put it on display at one point or another since arriving on campus.
Solomon Hill already began to show what he is capable of towards the end of the season and in the postseason. He arrived on the court in much better shape as a sophomore than he did as a freshman and as he continued to work hard and get more comfortable in the system, Hill's game began to take off.
Hill really showed improved athleticism and aggressiveness as well. An area that Hill continues to focus on is shooting from long distance. In a recent interview with WildcatAuthority.com, assistant coach James Whitford alluded to just how important outside shooting is to Hill's improvement and believes he can be a reliable scorer.
"He is more than capable of that," Whitford said. "What is going to allow his scoring to go up is his ability to shoot the ball better from three."
In the post, Kyryl Natyazhko really has to improve on both ends of the floor. His defense in the postseason was a nice surprise and gave Wildcats' fans a glimmer of hope going forward. One of the biggest areas of concern for Arizona for much of the past two years was its problems defending the pain. Natyazhko wasn't perfect by any means, but it's hard to imagine UA getting as far as it did without his defense.
Where Natyazhko really has to improve is on the offensive end of the floor. It became quite obvious that Natyazhko was not looking to score when he had the ball in his hands most of the time. Instead of taking an open shot, he would look to pass to the closest open player and set a screen for them.
Without Williams in the paint, UA is going to need someone to shoulder the offensive load in the paint and while no one should expect Natyazhko to become a premier post player on offense, he will have to score his fair share of points and learn to control the boards better.
Swingman Kevin Parrom was UA's spark plug off the bench and was the Wildcats' second best player behind Williams at times. Parrom has all of the tools needed to be a great college basketball player and was just that at times throughout the season. The improvement in his outside shooting did wonders for his offensive game. Parrom only shot a shade over 14 percent from long range as a freshman, but increased that percentage drastically to 41.8.
Parrom also brings superior athleticism to the table and is an adequate defender. He has become the type of player that doesn't need to start to produce big and even if he is unable to crack the starting lineup next season, he should still be one of UA's best players and a double-digit scorer.
Point guard MoMo Jones had an outstanding finish to his sophomore season. Jones concluded the year as UA's second leading scorer at 9.7 points per game and appeared to reach a level of comfort he hadn't been able to obtain in his first year-and-a-half of college basketball.
Jones was one of the conference's most improved players this past season and the rate Jones develops at could put him in the category as one of the best players in the Pac-12. Considering that highly touted recruits Josiah Turner and Nick Johnson are going to immediately battle Jones for minutes, the soon-to-be junior is going to have to compete even harder to maintain his impact on the team.
But the last thing anyone should do is count Jones out. He will get his minutes one way or another and Jones is one of the toughest competitors on the team. Even if Turner and Johnson come in and blow everyone away, the Wildcats will still need Jones to elevate his game to get UA back to the level it was at the end of the season.
Arizona reached an elite level once again in 2010-11 largely in part to the production Williams put out on the floor, but UA wouldn't have gone anywhere without the help of the supporting cast towards the end of the year and into the postseason. Perhaps it was a small sign of what to expect next season from the Wildcats and, if it is, UA fans can expect another deep run in next season's NCAA Tournament.
Time for 2009 class to shine
Wildcat Authority Top Stories
Authority Report: Wildcats not done yetThis week's Authority Report discusses Ira Lee, Lonnie Walker, and more.
Wildcat AuthorityThursday at 10:22 PM
Highlights: Ira LeeCheck out the video of Arizona's newest commit.
Wildcat AuthorityThursday at 1:45 PM
10/19 Football Notebook: Arizona's Bye WeekRich Rodriguez discusses bye week practice, quarterbacks, and more.
Wildcat AuthorityWednesday at 9:10 PM
Authority Report: Does UA lead for Graham?This week's Authority Report discusses Thomas Graham's recruitment and more.
Wildcat AuthorityWednesday at 8:50 PM