Gabe York has played with six NBA draft picks at Arizona, including four first-rounders and two lottery selections. A few other former teammates have been or are in NBA camps.
York, meanwhile, hasn’t been a one-and-done blazing star. He hasn’t been the go-to scorer. He hasn’t been guaranteed of a spot in the rotation from one season to the next. He was the guy who often seemed ready to fall victim to the next wave of incoming recruits, which is why he frequently topped the “Who’s going to transfer out of Arizona this season” list.
But here he is. A senior. A survivor. And a dang good player for an Arizona team that started practice Sunday favored to win its third consecutive Pac-12 title (at least according to the majority of major preseason magazines and polls).
“Gabe didn’t play a lot as a freshman and, believe me, the people around players like him, they always stats talking, ‘Why don’t you leave?'” said Arizona coach Sean Miller.
“But Gabe hung in there. His family deserves a lot of credit for believing and staying the course. I know this: Forget basketball, Gabe York will be so much more prepared for what life offers him beyond Arizona because he stayed and fought for everything rather than taking the easier route, bailing and gone to another program.
“By the way, a lot of the people who are giving those types of advice have never done sh– in their entire life.”
York, a 6-foot-3 guard, is expected to be a leader and show his full array of skills for the Wildcats, who have reached the past two West regional finals. He has, by necessity, been deemed mostly a 3-point specialist in the past couple of seasons; slightly more than two-thirds of his shot attempts in the past two seasons have come from behind the arc. In four NCAA Tournaments games last March, 21 of his 24 shot attempts were 3-pointers.
Overall, York has been fine as a designated shooter, making 39.3 percent of his shots from distance. But that wasn’t his game in high school. He was a scorer more than a shooter. The reward for his patience at Arizona should be a return to those good ol’ days.
“Offensively, I can’t just be a 3-point shooter,” said York, who averaged 9.2 points per game last season, mostly in a super-sub role.
“I have to get to the line more. I have to shoot from 2 more. I just have to be a better all-around player. I felt like I made that jump last year and now it has to be an even bigger jump.”
Arizona attempted just 14.1 3-point attempts last season, the fewest in the Pac-12, but has added more long-range prowess with freshman guard Allonzo Trier and San Francisco graduate transfer forward Mark Tollefsen, as well as a bigger role for point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright.
“It opens up my game to be able to go in, get into the lane and score,” said York, hopeful that defenses will have to respect Arizona’s shooting from more positions on the floor. “I don’t have to be that shooter anymore. I’m excited for my role.”
York has the experience, but the competition for playing time in the backcourt will be intense.
Jackson-Cartwright, a sophomore, is penciled in as the heir apparent to T.J. McConnell as the starting point guard, and York could see back-up minutes there, as he did at times last season. Freshman Justin Simon and junior college transfer Kadeem Allen are also candidates to spell Jackson-Cartwright.
And then at shooting guard, you have York, junior Elliott Pitts, Trier, Allen and Simon.
Miller could, of course, go with a three-guard lineup to get a better mix of those guys in the game, but he likes to play big and has the options of using the 6-9 Tollefsen and 6-8 Ray Smith at the 3.
— Arizona Basketball (@APlayersProgram) October 2, 2015
“It’s definitely guard-heavy,” York said of the competition for playing time.
“And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Coach Miller does a great job of explaining that nothing is ever promised. That brings out the fire, the competitive nature, in all of us. … You have to work your butt off, and if you’re not doing what you’re needs to be doing done in practice, you’re not going to play much.”
And you’re not going to play much for Miller if you can’t play defense. That’s been an improving, but not polished, part of York’s game. There, too, he’s ready to show the world he’s an all-around basketball player.
“I have had times, even last year, when the other team would try to single me out with one-on-one type stuff,” York said. “If they do that, I want to be able to answer the ball this year. My mentality has to be, I cannot let this player score.
“If I want to get to where I want to get, I have to step up my games on both sides.”
York said he’s proud that he didn’t “run away” from Arizona, that he stuck it out for all four years.
“I have a chance to make it a great story this year,” he said of his career arc. “I feel like it’s a storybook season I can have this year if I keep working my butt off and doing what I need to do.”