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June 18, 2013
There are positives for all three members of the 2013-14 Arizona Wildcats to take away from this weekend's leg of the U19 USA Basketball tryouts.
Incoming phenom Aaron Gordon's are apparent. The centerpiece of head coach Sean Miller's 2013 signing class is receiving a top flight introduction to the college game, playing alongside players who have successfully made the transition like Damyean Dotson and reigning Big 12 Conference Player of the Year Marcus Smart.
Gordon also is receiving instruction from a coaching staff that includes two-time national champion Billy Donovan and 2011 Final Four participant Shaka Smart. Altogether, it's the basketball equivalent of receiving tutoring from prize-winning professors before embarking on one's first college courses.
Gordon has passed his exams with flying colors - operative word, flying - and earned one of 12 roster spots Monday night. Rave reviews are coming out of Colorado, including a video of the forward throwing down an alley-oop over one of his USA teammates.
The workouts and challenges give Gordon a foundation for his college career, while also setting the bar on the highly touted prospect.
Gordon's soon-to-be Wildcat teammates Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Brandon Ashley were cut on Sunday, before the final round. As a second-year college player who proved his worth during the 2012-13 season, Ashley's exclusion is particularly surprising.
He improved in all phases of his game, emerging as a vital cog in UA's Sweet 16 run.
While the slight has to be disappointing for Ashley, it should also serve as motivation. And he need look no further than the McKale Center rafters for inspiration.
Wildcat legend Sean Elliott was left off the 1988 Olympic team, the last American Olympics squad comprised of college players. Elliott's snub was even more surprising than Ashley's, as Elliott was coming off a Final Four appearance and All-American honors.
His exclusion from the Olympic team became a motivator in the following season, and all Elliott did was set the Pac-10 Conference scoring record, land on the All-American team once again, and garner National Player of the Year awards.
Aspects of Ashley's game are reminiscent of Elliott: his size; his soft, mid-range shooting touch; his ever-improving ability to finish in traffic. Ashley can bring it full circle by using his snub to toughen up as Elliott did.
With UA losing Grant Jerrett and Angelo Chol this offseason, it needs the remaining frontcourt to step up to a higher level. A more seasoned Gordon and motivated Ashley are capable of doing just that.