If there’s one benefit to the scheduling madness the Arizona Wildcats have endured this season, it’s that it has given Ira Lee plenty of time to recover from his concussion without missing many games.
Head coach Sean Miller said Friday that the senior forward returned to practice this week and will play vs. Eastern Washington on Saturday, only the team’s second game of the season.
Had the Wildcats not seen games against NAU, UTEP and Colorado get cancelled due to COVID, they would have been without Lee for a larger portion of the season. The Wildcats have taken things slow with Lee to ensure a full recovery, but he is “full blast” this week and his body has responded well.
“He’s been able to practice, and he’s practiced well,” Miller said. “I think he has a freshness about him and like we talked about, what does Ira Lee bring to the table on this year’s team? He’s experienced, he’s been in college games, he’s been through seasons the ups and downs. He’s one of our most physical players on the rebounding end, both offensive rebounding and defensive rebounding, which I think he’ll bolster that and make us better in an area that we need to be better in.
“And Ira has a unique gift athletically where he can guard big guys that are on the perimeter, he can guard big guys that are in and around the basket, and he gives us much needed depth. So when a foul situation occurs and injury, God forbid, we run into a COVID situation, that we’re more of a prepared deeper group than we would have been without Ira. So I’m glad that he’s available, he’ll be able to play in this game, and hopefully he’ll be with us from this point forward.”
On a less promising note, Miller confirmed freshman guard Kerr Kriisa has returned to Tucson after spending a week playing for Estonia, but still has not received NCAA clearance to play for the Wildcats (due to eligibility issues stemming from a youth contract he signed with Lithuanian club team Zalgiris).
Kriisa also has to quarantine for at least a few days because he left the country.
Miller isn’t sure when Kriisa will return to team activities, deferring that to the program’s medical staff, but once he is cleared he will practice and do strength and conditioning workouts just like everyone else.
“Regardless of the outcome of the eligibility part, Kerr’s best days as a basketball player are in the future,” Miller said. “He has a lot of skill, he has a lot of talent, we love him as a player. He’s got a charisma about him that is contagious on the court. But as he gets bigger, stronger, older, repetitions, learning the difference between college basketball and FIBA—and there are differences—he’s only going to improve and get better, so that’s the whole key for him.”