Any good basketball coach would tell you that a loss can help to build a team’s character,  improve motivation and forward player development. They would also say that going undefeated is always the goal, but difficult, and that high rankings are merely a byproduct of a team’s success to be valued, but not to be the end goal. Sean Miller has essentially voiced these opinions throughout this successful basketball season.

     For Arizona Wildcat basketball fans, Saturday February 1, 2014, was a day of disaster.  The Wildcats lost their bid to go undefeated, their number one ranking and their first game of the season against the California Golden Bears. Although all of these seem like a litany of letdowns for the squad, the real tragedy was the loss of Brandon Ashley, Arizona’s best player.

     Although many may not agree with this opinion, Ashley is the unsung hero of this team. He doesn’t have the flash of Nick Johnson. He lacks the pizzazz and hype of Aaron Gordon. He is not perceived to be strong and forceful like Tarczewski.  He is not viewed to be a gritty team first leader like McConnell. Brandon Ashley however, exhibits all of these traits.

     He is unlike any Arizona big man I have ever seen and the player he reminds me of most is the San Antonio Spurs’ Tim Duncan. Although Ashley is slightly smaller, much younger and a tad more athletic than Duncan, Ashley is Arizona’s “Big Fundamental.”

     Brandon lets the game come to him, doesn’t force plays and steps up big when his team needs him the most. He plays hard on defense, rebounds well and often lets his teammates do the scoring. He has great post footwork, passing ability and leads by example with a positive balanced attitude. In moments when his team is struggling to score, he has the ability to score at will when fed in the post, as evidenced by his dominance in the Michigan game.

     When I watched the Stanford game a few days before Ashley’s injury, I couldn’t help but notice how hard he was working to set screens on offense for his teammates. There was a span for about five straight possessions where he set three or four screens on each possession while barely touching the ball. I was impressed. A few minutes later he caught the ball on the perimeter and without hesitation swished a three pointer. Unlike Duncan, Ashley shoots well from the outside and is also a solid free through shooter.

     Unfortunately for the Arizona Wildcats, they will be without the all around selfless talent that is Brandon Ashley for the rest of the season. Other players will need really work hard to fill such an important void in the lineup.  It is possible that without Ashley, their national championship hopes are dashed.

     Before Ashley’s injury, I would have predicted that he would leave for the NBA after this season, but now having sustained the injury, it is too hard to predict. Whether Ashley stays another year or enters the draft, I hope he has a full recovery and would enjoy watching him play again in an Arizona uniform.

     Tim Duncan stayed for four years at Wake Forest. This Arizona fan hopes Brandon Ashley continues to model himself after Duncan in both his play and in the length of his collegiate career. It never hurts to dream.