Three-dimensional: Arizona’s Gabe York focuses on rounding out game

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For two years, Gabe York has made camp behind the three-point line. He put up a tent, brought a sleeping bag. He made fire with sticks, toasted marshmallows, made s’mores. He’s “Gabe York, the three-point shooter,” so no need for him to venture forward all too much, right?

In March, Wisconsin knew this. And the Badgers set fire to his camping grounds.

The Badgers kept York in check in their Elite Eight matchup with Arizona — which the Wildcats lost 64-63 in overtime — and forced him inside, or outside his comfort zone. And he struggled. York shot 0-for-2 from the field and 1-for-2 from the free-throw line. Plus, the big goose egg — zero three-point attempts. He missed his first shot late in the first half, his second with 1:43 left in regulation, the game tied at 52. After the miss, Wisconsin got the rebound and scored on a lay-up before a Rondae Hollis-Jefferson dunk sent the game to OT.

Kyle Terada | USA TODAU Sports Images
Gabe York has focused on becoming more than a three-point specialist this offseason.

This has all played back in York’s mind since that game ended. It left “a bad taste in his mouth.” Like, if he burned a marshmallow, dropped it on the ground, and then still ate it. And no, not before the ‘five-second rule’ expired.

“Wisconsin did a great job of knowing that ‘OK, he’s not gonna go in the paint, he’s just gonna shoot,’ ” York said. “That’s why I didn’t play well and that’s in the back of my mind more than anything. … I know I’m better than that. Ever since that game ended I’ve been telling myself I can do better, and I think I accomplished that this offseason.”

All told, he’s worked on pretty much everything. Getting stronger in the weight room, mid-range jumpers, one dribble pull-ups, working off ball screens on the wings and the top of the key, and just “being a complete basketball player,” he said.

Throughout his time at UA, coach Sean Miller has often talked about how the transition from freshman to sophomore year might be the biggest. Derrick Williams is probably the best example of that. Nick Johnson and Solomon Hill certainly got better in Year Two. On a smaller scale, MoMo Jones, Kyle Fogg and Kevin Parrom saw bumps in production.

He’s looking for bigger improvements in Year Three, but York qualifies, too — he jumped from 2.4 points per game in 87 minutes to 6.7 points in 829 minutes. He started 12 games, including 11 after Brandon Ashley went down, and averaged 1.5 three-pointers made per game.

The biggest change from that Ashley injury, though, might have spurred along the development of another player’s freshman-sophomore jump — Elliott Pitts, the 6-foot-5-inch guard from Dublin, California.

Before Ashley went down for the season on Feb. 1 against Cal, Pitts had played in just seven games for 38 combined minutes. After? He played in each of the last 16 games, including all four NCAA tournament games, averaging 10 minutes. He didn’t score much — 30 points total — but he hit eight three-pointers.

There isn’t exactly playing time readily available, but Pitts certainly feels he’s, well, ready to play.

“It helped a ton,” Pitts said. “Honestly, it would be a lot different this year if [last year] I was just coming off the bench at the end of every game when we were blowing teams out. But the fact that I got in so early, and was able to get some game reps, it feels very advantageous for me.”

Added Miller: “It’s that type of experience that only helps you when you return back the next year.”

Ever since that [Wisconsin] game ended I’ve been telling myself I can do better,
and I think I accomplished that this offseason.

— Gabe York

For Pitts, he’s already made the steps toward taking that jump. Coming in as a freshman, he was a frail 165 pounds or so. Now, he’s at 190, a product of changing his diet and lifting weights in the summer. Pitts seems to be going down a similar path of development to York. As York develops his game, and moves inside the arc a little more often, Pitts might just take on some of York’s previous role.

Take over the York three-point Camping Grounds, at least in spurts. He has the stroke for it and now some experience to boot. The playing time might not quite be there this season, but Pitts feels ready.

Even as Pitts develops, though, York will still likely be Arizona’s go-to option from beyond the arc, as well as its sixth man.

At Media Day, Miller was asked who had the best jumper on the Wildcats. Without hesitation, he said York. Then, unprompted, he continued talking about York for about five more minutes.

“I believe he’s poised to take the next step, and that is to be able to score in a variety of ways, and to kind of pick up where Nick left off as a defender,” Miller said. He added: “If I were a betting man, I would bet on him having a big role on this year’s team.”

York isn’t focused on how much his role increases, he’s just getting ready for when that time comes.

“We ended on a bad note. For me personally, I didn’t play well against Wisconsin so I keep that at the back of my mind, and use that as the fuel to my fire to just become a better basketball player. … I know what this team needs me to do.”

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