Backcourt mixes youth, seniors

Any talk of the Wildcat backcourt has to begin with Jerryd Bayless. The questions regarding the talented freshman are not if he will start, but where. Quite frankly, he is too good, too advanced not to start from day one for the Wildcats.

All indications are that he will start at the point to begin the season. He should be the third straight true freshman starting point guard for the Cats joining Jason Gardner and Mustafa Shakur in beginning their Wildcat careers as first year starters.

Bayless is not only one of the highest rated recruits in the history of the school, he is also one of the most anticipated. Bayless burst upon the recruiting scene as a freshman and dominated the competition at the Nike All-American Camp as a sophomore. It was only natural the Arizona fans had their eyes on the Phoenix product.

"Jerryd is a scorer who makes good decisions," Lute Olson noted. "He can easily play either guard position."

Bayless gives the Wildcats an explosive, score-first point guard who has a mature build for a young player. A heady, charismatic player, Bayless has all the skills to be an elite point guard, but has to fine tune his game. Although he was a point guard in high school, his job was not to run the offense, rather to be the offense.

At Arizona he will have to balance scoring with getting others involved. He needs to be as much a floor general as a scoring machine.

While Bayless will certainly begin games at the point, don't expect him to only play at that spot. Bayless will also team with sophomore Nic Wise when the Wildcats want to go small. Wise and Bayless worked a lot in the preseason and exhibition season together and it has shown to be a spark for the Wildcat offense.

"Really, they both are point guards who can play together, and love to play together," Olson explained. "Nic and Jerryd on the court together make us a much quicker team."

Wise dropped nearly 20 pounds in the offseason and comes into his second year with reknewed energy and enthusiasm. He looked solid early last year but by the start of league play he was seeing spot minutes.

The sophomore is very quick, and can knock down the open shot. He has a good feel for getting others involved and if he can make good decisions and be a solid defender he should get decent minutes.

The starter at the two guard will be Jawann McClellan. Last year he finally looked to be putting his bad luck behind him. In the early part of the season he was a integral part of the offense, easily being the team's best shooter.

By late January he looked done. His knees were in bad shape and the player that we saw in November and December was gone. By the NCAA Tournament he was nothing more than a role player, a shell of what he was just 60 days prior.

This year the Wildcats not only need his offensive and defensive abilities but the fourth year player's leadership. Of the four Wildcat seniors, he is the only one assured of enough playing time to assume a leadership role. He told the media moments after the loss to Purdue in the NCAA Tournament that he would make the Wildcats his team and he has, to date, lived up to that promise.

"Jawann is in as good of shape as he's even been," said Olson. "I expect him to be available to us in every game, and not every other game as was the case during league play last year. His experience and perimeter ability will be crucial for us."

If he can keep the knees healthy, and that is an if, McClellan has missed practice time to rest his kness, but if he can stay healthy he should be the team's third scoring option behind Bayless and wing forward Chase Budinger.

Two other guards seem poised to battle for minutes. Senior Daniel Dillon has the edge from an experience standpoint, while Laval Lucas-Perry has the upside advantage. Both are versatile and both take pride in their defense.

Dillon, a senior, was given a chance to be Arizona's defensive stopper a year ago and did an okay job in that role. He was the first guard off the bench for the Cats, but played limited minutes due to his inconsistent offensive game. He was cited for a DUI at the end of the year and did not play in the NCAA Tournament.

"Daniel has shown the ability to be productive at both ends," said Olson.

This year he will have to fight for his time. He failed to get in the game in the Cats' first exhibition game and then played very well in the second exhibition. He is a solid defender and does a good job on the glass. He does not need to be a big scorer, just knock down open shots. He does seem limited into playing solely at the two, and that lack of versatility could hurt his quest for consistent minutes.

Lucas-Perry has a lot to learn, but also brings a lot to the table. A tremendous athlete, he was an All-State football player and an accomplished tennis player. Like Dillon, Lucas-Perry is a tough, defensive minded player. He's probably a step quicker than Dillon but it remains to be seen how developed his offensive game is at this stage.

He does appear to be a true combo guard and his ability to play the point for small stretches probably gives him a small leg up on Dillon, although both appear to start the season behind the top-three.

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