November 14, 2011
Aside from the emotional return of Kevin Parrom less than two months after he was shot, the most noteworthy aspect of Arizona's 73-63 victory over Ball State on Sunday was who didn't play for the Wildcats.
Josiah Turner, Arizona's top recruit and one of the Class of 2011's most highly touted point guards, did not get off the bench. Sean Miller told reporters after the game Turner was neither injured nor suspended − it was simply a coach's decision not to insert him into the game.
"No coach is worth his salt if you're not playing the players that are really practicing hard and doing what they're supposed to," Miller told the Arizona Daily Star. "It's very difficult to build a program and try to do the things that we hope to do when that's not in place.
"It's not like he's a bad kid - he's a great kid. But he's just trying to find his way from where he left high school as a true freshman to the adjustment of being in college, on and off the court."
Turner will have to play a major role later this season for Arizona to contend in the Pac-12 and make another deep NCAA tournament run, so it's clear Miller is trying to send an early message to the prized freshman to change his practice habits.
The Sacramento native lost his spot in the starting lineup against Duquesne on Wednesday when he was late to a shoot-around. He also struggled on the floor against the Dukes and Valparaiso, shooting a combined 1-for-7 and making a handful of bad decisions with the ball in his hands.
Whether Miller's decision pays off will depend on how maturely Turner responds to it. If he uses being benched as motivation, it can be a turning point in his season. If it creates a rift between him and the coaches because he feels angry or humiliated, it could potentially turn into a distraction.
With Turner on the bench and starter Jordin Mayes not having one of his better games, Arizona turned to freshman Nick Johnson to play some point guard. Johnson, who hadn't played the position at all in high school, filled in admirably, earning praise from Miller for not crumbling under the circumstances.
There's no doubt Johnson is better as a scorer than a facilitator, so Arizona should hope his minutes at point guard are merely temporary. That playing time needs to go to Turner. Maybe now he'll be ready for it.