Passing of torch from McConnell to Jackson-Cartwright will be reminiscent of early Point Guard U. development

Parker Jackson-Cartwright might be diminutive at 5-foot-7 but the Class of 2014 point guard stands tall with Sean Miller’s plans for that recruiting class.

Arizona’s point-guard-in-waiting T.J. McConnell (who is not playing this season after transferring from Duquesne) will be a senior when Jackson-Cartwright is a freshman, a perfect transition that includes a veteran teaching a youngster the ropes in practice for one entire season.

This has been a common occurrence with Point Guard U., dating back to when Kenny Lofton learned his craft under Steve Kerr from 1985-88. The string of grooming point guards for future starts in their careers lasted at Arizona until Mike Bibby, Jason Gardner and Mustafa Shakur started a trend of freshmen taking over the most important position on the floor from the beginning of their careers.

Jason Terry started in between Bibby and Gardner during this stretch as a senior in 1998-99 after playing behind Reggie Geary in 1995-96 and Bibby in 1996-97 and 1997-98. Terry’s patience paid off as he was selected the Pac-10 Player of the Year as a senior.

T.J. McConnell will take over the starting point guard role next season as a junior

T.J. McConnell will take over the starting point guard role next season as a junior

The point-guard-in-waiting theme in Lute Olson’s early years had positive results:

  • Lofton started as senior in 1988-89 after backing up Kerr for most of three years (he started in 1986-87 as a sophomore when Kerr rehabilitated a knee injury). The Wildcats were ranked No. 1 for most of the season in 1988-89 with Lofton, Sean Elliott and Anthony Cook as seniors.
  • Matt Othick started in 1989-90 as a sophomore after playing behind Lofton in 1988-89. Othick shot 44.9 percent from three-point range and posted 160 assists vs. only 74 turnovers as a senior.
  • Damon Stoudamiree started as a sophomore in 1992-93 after subbing for Othick in 1989-90. After leading the UA to the Final Four in 1993-94, Stoudamire was a consensus All-American and co-Pac-10 Player of the Year as a senior in 1994-95.
  • Geary started as a senior in 1995-96 after playing behind Stoudamire for three years. He became just the third player in Arizona history to pass out 200 or more assists in a single season (231) as a senior.

Nic Wise played behind Shakur as a freshman in 2006-07, which would eventually be Olson’s last season as Arizona’s head coach. After persevering through temptations to transfer and a knee injury, Wise was selected to the all-Pac-10 team as a senior in 2009-10 (Miller’s first season as Arizona’s coach).

Miller has utilized first-year starters within the program the last three years: Freshmen Lamont “MoMo” Jones (2010-11) and Josiah Turner (2011-12) and senior transfer Mark Lyons from Xavier this season.

McConnell, who earned Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year honors in 2010-11 at Duquesne, is practicing daily against Lyons and both players are reaping the benefits. As a sophomore last year, McConnell averaged 11.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 2.8 steals per game.

He connected on 50.9 percent (135-of-265) of his field goal attempts, including 43.2 percent (38-of-88) from three-point range. He also made 83.6 percent of his free throws (46-of-55) in earning third-team all-Atlantic 10 Conference honors and a spot on the A-10 all-defensive team. He ranked third nationally in steals per game and tied for 31st nationally in assists per game in 2011-12.

McConnell will hand the torch — or the basketball — to Jackson-Cartwright after the 2014-15 season. Another foundation layer at Point Guard U. will begin to develop. History suggests promising results are in the works.

Site publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner

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