In an impassioned post-game speech last March, Arizona Coach Sean Miller exalted to his team, “Nastiness is required.”
You’re all familiar with it. Over the following months it became the program’s unofficial motto; tossed across message boards and columns and the McKale pregame intro video. It was a big moment for a building program and, simply, it’s true.
Nastiness is indeed required to be a great player, a great team, and a great program. Do you think Williams felt bad putting Darnell Gant’s shot into the student section? How was Isaiah Thomas feeling about taking and hitting the game winner in Momo Jones’ eye for the Pac-10 title? Do you think Miller had any qualms swooping Kaleb Tarczewski from Bill Self’s front porch? No. And each was nasty.
So, after two lackluster exhibition games against inferior opponents, I ask: where is the nasty?
Has it been swept away amongst the hype? Is it buried in self-induced pressure? Does it simply not exist?
Yes, there’s been a lot of hype. Yes, individuals have built a lot of pressure to perform (Fogg, Hill, Perry). No, it exists and it’s there.
As Miller tinkers and adjusts, challenges and teaches, we’ll slowly begin to see this group of Wildcats play Sean-ball. The proof is in the pudding. After being outrebounded – and beat – by an undersized, less talented Seattle Pacific team, Miller’s squad promptly responded by more than doubling Humboldt State’s rebound total and grabbing 29 more boards than against SPU.
Each season brings a learning curve and this one is no different.
As the season develops, so too will Josiah Turner’s control of the offense and the bigs’ control of the lane. Kyle Fogg should convert his now famous 40,000 jumpers into some semblance of confidence and a rotation will emerge. Miller calls his current rotation a “jigsaw puzzle,” working to put the right pieces in the right places to make a beautiful picture. Right now, the 2011-12 Arizona Wildcats puzzle is barely out of the box, not yet scattered across the table.
A group looking for its identity, feeling each other out and learning to play against bigger, stronger, faster opponents than 140 pound high schoolers, will take a little time to get nasty. Because nastiness certainly is not 20 turnovers (14 from upperclassmen) or being outrebounded by a D2 school. It’s responding to those setbacks, improving when you can, and making your teammates better.
So now we begin; a thirty-one game journey stating tonight that will have bumps and setbacks, highs and lows, wins and losses. It’s an uncertain path but one thing is for certain:
Nastiness is required.