Expectations certainly are not very high for Kyryl Natyazhko, but it is possible that they should be a bit higher. We now take a look at the five biggest questions surrounding Natyazhko going into the season.
1. Is he in shape?: Natyazhko went home for a bit and came back completely out of shape, as the training staff worked with him in four hour sessions to return to the shape he was in last season, if not better.
Indications are that Natyazhko is indeed getting in shape, but the question still has to remain until he gets into a game and is pushed more than he has been in practices and workouts. The last we heard, Natyazhko was at about 265 pounds, which is down from the nearly 300 pounds that he came back to Tucson weighing. The 265-pound weight is actually a number that Natyazhko can play at, but the question now becomes about his endurance.
There is a very good chance that Chris Rounds is going to be able to get him in shape, but the question about the timeframe and game stamina is going to be there until proven otherwise.
2. What should the expectations be?
Natyazhko averaged two points and two rebounds per game last season. In Pac-10 play, he had 13 games in which he failed to score and seven games in which he failed to grab a rebound. Some people will point to his defense, and it was effective at times, but the reality of the situation is that a player of his size at least needs to be able to grab more rebounds.
This brings us to expectations, which seem to be low for Natyazhko going into the season due in large part to the fact that his numbers last season were abysmal. There are indeed people around the program that feel he can surprise people if he dedicates himself and puts it all together. But will he?
As a high school prospect, Natyazhko showed that he has plenty of potential in his ability to score and be much more dangerous that he has been in his career at Arizona. However, potential only goes so far and now is the time for Natyazhko to put that all together as a player that should be able to double his averages from last season.
3. What will his minutes look like?
In Pac-10 play last season, Natyazhko only played double digit minutes in six games. Looking at the roster, you have to wonder if those minutes will increase, especially with the presence of Sidiki Johnson, who looks like he could fight for the starting center spot.
This question is somewhat related to the other questions because if Natyazhko does not raise the expectations of those around him or prove he is in good enough shape to play extended minutes, then nothing is going to change from last season.
Arizona would love to have numerous reasons to play him more minutes, but he has to give them. If Natyazhko is playing good defense and rebounding, we can see his minute total increasing, as he had nine conference games in which he played five minutes or less. At the very least, Natyazhko should be able to give the Wildcats more than five minutes a game, or at least that is the hope.
4. Can he be a confident player?
Arizona may not want Natyazhko shooting the ball every time he touches it, but it became a little bit ridiculous at the end of last season when he would look to get rid of the ball as soon as possible. The coaching staff is trying to instill confidence in Natyazhko and the hope is that it will start to show in actual games.
A lot of Natyazhko's success is going to depend on whether or not he can be a more confident player because, if he can't, it is hard to see him being effective at all. There is some talent there and the Wildcats could definitely use it, but it is up to Natyazhko to be confident enough to use those skills to help his team.
5. Will he thrive from being challenged?
Often times a player will thrive in the idea that he is going to be challenged every day in practice and there is another player pushing him. In this case, Sidiki Johnson is going to push Natyazhko every day and to the point where there is a very good chance he will take away minutes.
Natyazhko has to want to answer this challenge, but we really do not know if he will. On one hand, Natyazhko can take the challenge and simply concede and fail to extend his minutes. On the other hand, he can take the challenge and run with it, working harder and trying to keep his job at all costs.
The answer to this question is something that will determine much of how Natyazhko's season will go.