Arizona Basketball head coach Tommy Lloyd brought his two leaders, Kerr Kriisa and Ąžuolas Tubelis with him on a private jet to San Francisco.
Arizona center Oumar Ballo just earned a spot on the Preseason Watchlist for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, and he joins Kerr Kriisa, Pelle Larsson, and Azuolas Tubelis who are now on Arizona’s preseason watchlists as well.
The Wildcats were picked No. 2 by Pac-12 coaches in the preseason poll, as Arizona earned 352 points (3 coaches voted for Arizona to end up in first place), UCLA came in at No. 1 with 386 points (with 26 first-place votes, and Oregon landed No. 3 with 336 points). Media have correctly picked the Conference winner 17 times in 33 tries, including five times in the Pac-12 era (since 2011-12).
It was nice that almost everyone thanked the media for coming, as well as told us how much they appreciate us. Don’t remember that much love for the media in prior Media days, so that was a breath of fresh air.
First let me say, that Kerr and Zu (“Call me Zu”), are the nicest, calmest, humble and sweetest players I have ever spoken with at Pac-12 basketball Media Day luncheons.
I had a great talk with Zu and asked Kerr if I could take a picture with them. To my pleasant surprise, Kerr wanted me to be in the picture, I blushed, another first. I came away feeling the warm fuzzies from the Arizona Wildcats I cheer for non-stop. I looked forward to formally asking the two a few questions. But my questions weren’t the highlight, as Kerr’s headband was.
“Sorry I forgot my headband, guys. Make sure Kerr’s got his, so we’re covered,” Lloyd joked resulting in a room of laughter from the media and especially his players.
On Coach Lloyd’s thoughts about the departing of UCLA and USC, he was disappointed because he loves competing against those schools. He believes and feels strongly that the brand of Arizona basketball is strong enough to stand on its own.
“So I’m just going to focus on doing the best job at Arizona, and obviously we want to have — we want to do everything we can to compete for conference championships and compete for National Championships. I mean, that’s still my focus,” explained Lloyd.
He did leave the door open for the future possibility of continuing the rivalry, “So I wish those guys the best of luck. Hopefully, I’ll be able to compete with them obviously the next couple years and then beyond. I would love to continue to play those schools.”
"Lloyd on how he recruits for Arizona and it seems he is not focused on one-and-done recruits: “First off, recruiting is tough, I think no matter where you’re at — I try not to put too much stock in or pressure on our staff that we have to go out and recruit five McDonald’s All-Americans because I don’t know if that always translates into winning and consistency. But we’re going to try to be genuine. We’re going to try not to over-promise and under-deliver when you recruit kids. I think it’s really important when you recruit somebody, you’re doing it with that in mind of that kid being successful at your school. Not just, hey, we’ll see how this kid does, and if it doesn’t work after a year, we’ll get rid of him.”"
I asked about their thoughts on the Red and Blue game, one of the best yet in terms of competition, and Alumni coming back to participate in the fun (Lauri Markennan, Rawle Alkins, Jason Terry, Richard Jefferson in the ZonaZoo, Deandre Ayton and more).
"KERR KRIISA: I mean, yeah, it was fun obviously. There were like R.J. and all these guys that had helluva careers, and just to see them, that they care to come back and see us play in Red and Blue, and like you said, grade our dunks and stuff like that. It matters. It was a fun night for sure. AŽUOLAS TUBELIS: Yeah, that was fun. I had a chance to talk to Jason Terry after the game because he was an assistant coach here for one year. So, yeah, we talked about like how is his team doing because now he’s an assistant coach in the NBA, I’m pretty sure. Yeah, we just talked, and that was fun. LLOYD: I like to tell our guys they need to have fun, enjoy the moment because it’s definitely a community event. Any time you get 15,000 people to come to a scrimmage, it’s pretty cool. For me, it’s great to have our guys play live in front of people for the first time and kind of get that out of their"
Pac-12 and Phoenix Mercury play by play voice and freelancer broadcaster Cindy Brunson asked the players about what they worked on over the summer. The way she asked it got great answers.
Brunson: After watching the Red and Blue game, Zu, I was really impressed with your bounciness. You look leaner this year. Kerr, your ball handling clearly has been something you worked on over the summer. To the two of you, what phase of your game improved the most over the summer?
"AŽUOLAS TUBELIS: I think my defense improved the most and my shooting from three-point line. Yeah, that’s basically it. I don’t know, I didn’t work on my bounce, so I don’t know. (Laughter). Q. You’re leaner. You don’t look as bulky as you did last year. AŽUOLAS TUBELIS: Everyone says that, yeah, I look skinny, I know. I know I’m not that skinny. KERR KRIISA: First of all, thank you. Finally, somebody notices because Coach doesn’t say that, good job. TOMMY LLOYD: Oh, wow. KERR KRIISA: Finally getting some credit. I mean, yeah, we had a great summer with the coaching staff and Coach Tommy, and I really put in the work. Then I had a great national team summer after. So, yeah."
We will leave you with this. The players were asked about getting recruited by Arizona, the truth might surprise you.
"AŽUOLAS TUBELIS: With me, it was like a funny story because Coach Jack Murphy came to Lithuania to watch Kerr play, and I played against him, and he said, oh, I want this guy too. So I don’t know, I got offered like a scholarship, so why not, you know. KERR KRIISA: He lost that game, by the way. AŽUOLAS TUBELIS: I lost it, but I was good, though. (Laughter)."
All in all, Pac-12 Media Days was very successful and bittersweet as it was the last one to be held at the current headquarters.