Experience counts in the NCAA, and both Arizona Basketball players Ira Lee and Dylan Smith are proving that their experience playing under head coach Sean Miller is crucial to the teams’ success.
Pundits, fans and media all try their best to predict the future or give their opinion hoping to be correct, especially when it comes to Arizona Basketball. Sometimes they react in the moment, which isn’t always the best method, as many have gotten it wrong with it comes to Ira Lee and Dylan Smith.
So far in 2019-20, these two players are proving their experience in Sean Miller’s system helps the team. It was only a matter of time.
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The redshirt senior Smith has gotten his share of criticisms online, plenty of them unfair. To prove this, consider that Miller believes so strongly in Smiths’ skills and ability that he plays him frequently, much to the ire of fans.
Smith knows Miller’s system, it’s his fourth year in the program (he sat out his first year as a transfer), and he continues to believe in himself regardless of the spewing of criticism.
Smith is active on Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms, and he caught Jason Scheer on Twitter with premature criticism. During the game, Scheer tweeted about Dylan’s early performance in the game. The Tweet didn’t live long as Smith clapped back.
So far he has proved to be a glue guy for the Wildcats, hitting clutch three’s and playing Miller’s defense.
Sure, every player makes mistakes, but when there is a microscope on seasoned players, any little mistake is amplified. In response, Smith has shut up his critics in recent weeks, especially as the Cats beat both the No. 20 Colorado Buffaloes (75-54) and the Utah Utes (93-77).
In Smith’s last five games he has averaged 9.6 points, if you take out the OSU game, he averaged 11.5 points and five rebounds. He has started in all 18 games and is shooting 42.5 percent from three, and 79.3 percent from the charity stripe. Add to that his 13 steals on the season, three against No. 1 Baylor, and 11 total blocks, he brings a lot of value.
What doesn’t show in the stats is the spark he gives the team. Against No. 20 Colorado, Smith scored five points in about 15 seconds. He pulled up and shot a three, then stole the ball and dunked it resulting in a seven-point swing in the score, 34-20 Arizona. He plays with ice in his veins, rarely shows emotion and seems to push through adversity with ease.
Junior Ira Lee is also a spark off the bench, providing spot minutes, bringing energy and excitement with each emphatic dunk. So much so that they started chanting his name against Colorado in the game on Saturday afternoon.
Ira has filled in for Chase Jeter who is still out with a back issue, however, Ira could just as well be in the eight-man Miller rotation.
Teams like Oregon State have players who have played together for years and that helps with chemistry and team development. Each year, Ira has had new players that break the starting line-up and he has kept a smile on his face no matter if his name is called or not. He is a definite team player.
Lee is a player who plays with so much heart, he wants to play well, he works at it and it shows.
Miller spoke about Lee and how much he supports him in 2018, especially as he has come through some difficult times in his college career. Nonetheless, he has come out more experienced and appreciative of his position.
Yet despite all of this, he is another Wildcat that has received backlash from fans. Ira told me he has at times taken down his Twitter account so he could focus on basketball and not the noise.
After his last two games against Colorado and Utah, Lee has enjoyed social media, as he left it all on the floor. He’s also been one of the most exciting dunkers on the team.
While Ira has come off the bench the entire season, he is making 54.3 percent of his field goals, and had a season-high 12 points against Omaha earlier in the year. Take into consideration Lee is averaging 13.4 minutes of play, so for him, he has to prove himself half the time the freshman stars get to warm up and make mistakes through a game. Give him double the minutes and he can rack up more stats. Regardless, he has a lot of confidence in his abilities!
Heck, Lee has so much confidence and enthusiasm, he even got a technical for looking at the opponent after dunking in the Utah game. A ridiculous call, nonetheless he got the crowd excited.
Miller benched him after that call, but we think he may have regretted it after watching the replay. If a player in other other conference did what Lee did, it would be ignored and seemingly has been from what we have seen with our own eyes.
Highlight from the Utah game (Ira dunked the ball at 1:53):
Keep an eye on both these Wildcats for the rest of the season, they are integral to the success of the team, and their collective experience in Sean Miller’s system is crucial, and Miller knows that he can count on these two to work hard and want to win on the court. As always, Bear Down, Arizona!