There was something of an Arizona Wildcats takeover on ESPN Chicago radio Friday morning, with host David Kaplan interviewing new Chicago Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen, Arizona coach Sean Miller … and even former UA assistant/interim head coach Kevin O’Neill.
Markkanen was the story of the day. The one-and-done 7-footer from Finland was acquired by the Bulls in a trade with Minnesota after being the seventh overall selection in the NBA Draft on Thursday night.
“It’s just a blessing that they believed in me,” Markkanen said. “And now I’m ready to go to work.”
Kaplan asked Miller if Markkanen was a “gym rat,” and the coach answered with one word about how his ex-player feels about the game.
“Obsessed,” Miller said.
In that sense, Miller put Markkanen and another of his Arizona lottery picks in the same breath.
“Aaron Gordon would be the comparison,” Miller said.
“Both guys are consumed with the game. They look at it as their responsibility to improve. They are so easy to coach because not only are they going to do everything you ask of them, but they are going to go above and beyond, before practice, after practice.
“And they are guys in the locker room that you love. They are great teammates. Lauri is one of the most popular guys we’ve ever had at Arizona, on and off the court.”
Markkanen averaged 15.6 points and a team-high 7.2 rebounds last season, making 42.3 percent of his 3-pointers (69 of 163). Markkanen said the extra distance on the NBA 3-point shot won’t be a problem.
“I’ve been working on that the whole time,” he said. “I’m pretty sure I shoot better NBA 3s.”
Miller said Markkanen’s shooting will “translate immediately.”
“A lot of times there are two categories — ‘a great shooter’ and ‘a big guy who is a great shooter,'” Miller said. “I would just say you could put Lauri in the first category. Especially as a 19-year-old, you would say he’s one of the best young shooters in the NBA. …
“His starting point is an incredible starting point because he has that special skill and he has the gift of size. And his work ethic is second to none.”
As for O’Neill, now an analyst for the Pac-12 Networks, he said he considered Markkanen “the best NBA prospect in the whole draft” and called him “maybe the best big-man shooter coming out of college in the last 10 or 12 years.”
He added: “He’s a great shooter. That’s one of his great assets. But if he doesn’t make a 3, he can still impact the game. I think he’s the real deal. I have a lot of respect for his game and a lot of respect for his demeanor. He handles himself like a man. He obviously has been coached very well along the way.”
Miller was asked about the Sweet 16 upset loss to Xavier, which rallied in the final few minutes to beat the Wildcats 73-71. Markkanen didn’t attempt a shot in the final 11:12.
“Poor coaching,” Miller said, managing a laugh.
“They played a zone and we did about as bad a job of moving (the ball). It’s one of the games as a coach where you wish you could walk out there, call timeout and practice for 45 minutes, and then come back and finish the game.
“We got away from attacking and we got away from putting him in better positions. … I will put that one on me, and I join thousands of Arizona Wildcats fans in that assessment, too.”