So, Kerr Kriisa – and his headband – has left the building. And Adama Ball has exited stage left as well.
Who didn’t see this coming? Those who didn’t pay attention, that’s who. First the obvious, in Adama Bal, given his role last season (21-22) was bigger than what it was this past season (22-23). Heck, many thought he would work his way into the starting lineup before the season started given his experience and confidence in his shot in Tommy Lloyd’s first season.
It never came to be in year two. He was a bit player and couldn’t break Arizona’s tight rotation. Players – student-athletes by name – go to schools to play. If they don’t play, they find a better (for them) place to play. So, now he’ll look for that spot.
“Wildcat nation!!” Bal said via Twitter. “Thank you for everything. I have decided to enter the transfer portal and explore new opportunities. I am thankful and grateful to have been part of this amazing journey with my teammates coaches and you guys. Love y’all and Bear Down!”
It was a numbers game for Bal and he just didn’t get the numbers because he didn’t get the minutes to play. It happens and will continue to happen, likely every year.
For Kriisa, this is not a shock given he had an inconsistent season and a lot of the talk in the second half of the season – via fans and some observers – that freshman Kylan Boswell was the team’s point guard of the future. Was he going to be moved to the shooting guard? We won’t know until we know. How that sat with Kriisa is anyone’s guess. How the fan’s hot-and-cold love for him is another story. He was perhaps the most polarizing UA men’s basketball player in the last 20 seasons. Many loved his in-your-face style, and many didn’t. They liked his bravado; yet many didn’t.
They loved his aggressive play but hated the unnecessary turnovers. They loved his kisses to the stands after 3-pointers, then they didn’t.
They negativity was there from the fans. Just read Facebook on many of my game posts. Some criticism was fair, many not.
“All Kerr does is turn the ball over though,” Kriisa said on his podcast Nameless Podcast.
Earlier, he tweeted:
“Tucson!” Kerr wrote. “Keeping it short and sweet. Thank you for 3 unforgettable years that I had here. So thankful and grateful for all moments that I shared with my teammates. Bear down, always.”
But now he’s gone. He’ll get a fresh start with many fans wishing he was still in a UA uniform and many glad he’s not. It’s proof you can’t make everyone happy – even when you’re winning. Clearly, you can’t when you’re losing.
Surely, you’ll have to replace his fiery attitude and numbers. This past year, he averaged 9.9 points per game. He led the Pac-12 in assists at 5.14 per game. He shot the ball well from the 3-point line but didn’t in the end. He was just 4 for 20, including 1 for 7 in his final game against Princeton.
“Honestly I just think it was good for a fresh start for me and obviously for the program,” Kriisa said on his podcast with Pelle Larsson Nameless Podcast. “I’m very grateful and thankful for the three years I was here. Looking around nowadays college basketball, there’s not a lot of guys who would be in one place for three years.
“I’m really happy I got into a good situation. Great coaches. So I just feel really calm inside. I’m really happy, happy meaning I’m happy with my decision. Of course it’s sad to leave Tucson but it is what it is.”
He also played hurt. He suffered an injured shoulder in the Pac-12 quarterfinal game and then a hand injury in the title game.
For two years, Kriisa was Lloyd’s ride-or-die guy. He’s was playing him every opportunity. When Kerr picked up his second triple-double of his career earlier this year, Lloyd waxed poetic on his guard.
“I think Kerr is good every day,” Lloyd said. “I really do. Nobody’s gonna get a triple double every night. And Kerr is just a good basketball. player. He’s just got such a high IQ and he’s got a great motor and he’s competitive. You can coach him on a cerebral level where he understands what’s going on and he he’ll look at you and he’ll nod and for the most part he’ll go out and do it.
“Kerr’s biggest strength is his confidence and he’s not scared. There’s sometimes he’ll do some risky plays, and he probably knows that (and think) Coach probably isn’t gonna love this, but he’s still not afraid, which is important.”
Now, when will the word come out about Azuolas Tubelis if he’s staying or going? My guess – just a guess – is that he’s headed out the door too. Stay tuned.