Arizona Hoops Preview

Over the next several weeks DevilsDigest.com will bring you a comprehensive breakdown of the upcoming 2002-2003 basketball season in the Pacific-10 conference. Included in this analysis will be the projection of team records, and post-season individual awards. The 9th section of this multi-part series looks at the <!--Default For Arizona is to ignore-->Arizona Wildcats.

Arizona Wildcats (Tucson, Arizona)
2001-02 Record: 24-10 (12-6)
Postseason: NCAA
Returning Starters: 5

Projected Starting Lineup: (Returning Starters in Bold)

PG-Jason Gardner, 5'10, 185 Sr. (20.4 ppg, 4.7 apg, 1.6 spg, .425 FG%, .383 3 pt%)
SG-Salim Stoudamire, 6'1, 180 So. (13.0 ppg, .456 FG%, .901FT%, .448 3pt%)
SF-Luke Walton, 6'8, 245 Sr. (16.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 6.2 apg, 1.7 spg, 470 FG%, .684 FT%)
PF-Rick Anderson, 6'9, 230 Sr. (13.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg, .495 FG%, .400 3pt%)
C-Channing Frye, 6'11, 235 So. (9.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.4 bpg, .587 FG%)


Key Returning Reserves:

Will Bynum, 5'11, 193 So. PG (6.4 ppg, .344 FG%, .255 FG%)
Dennis Latimore, 6'8, 238 So. F (limited minutes)
Isaiah Fox 6'9, 269, So. F/C (4.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg.)

Recruiting Class:

Chris Rodgers, 6'3, 203 Fr. G (Woodrow Wilson HS, Portland, Oregon)
Hassan Adams, 6'4, 201 Fr. G (Westchester HS, Los Angeles, California)
Andre Iguodala, 6'6, 200 Fr. F (Lanphier HS, Springfield, Illinois)
Chris Dunn, 6'6, 170 Fr. F (Hobbs HS, Hobbs, New Mexico)

There are extremely high hopes in Tucson this season. The University of Arizona is coming off a remarkably successful season in which the Wildcats won the Pac-10 Tournament and went to the NCAA Sweet-16 despite only having 9 players on scholarship(out of a maximum of 13) and playing as many as 5 freshmen extensively. The Lute Olson-led group is the only team in the Pac-10 to return all 5 starters and to that they add arguably the best recruiting class in the conference with as many as three players capable of contributing immediately.

The pre-season Associated Press #1 ranked team in the country, Arizona returns three veteran seniors in Jason Gardner, Luke Walton and Rick Anderson. Gardner and Walton are among the best players in college basketball in the nation and are likely draft picks in the 2003 NBA draft. Gardner is a scoring point guard who can put the ball in the basket from anywhere on the floor and is excellent running the fast break. Defensively he is quick as a cat and the only point guards that may give him trouble are those with a significant height advantage that can either shoot over him or take him into the post. Walton is perhaps the most advanced all-around player in the country. He is the leading ball distributor on this squad, playing what is often termed as "point-forward" and leading the Pac-10 in assists a year ago at an average of more than six per game. His only perceived weakness has been his mediocre perimeter shooting, but he has reportedly improved substantially in this area during the off-season. He has played small forward almost exclusively throughout his college career up to this point, but may see time this season at power forward in an effort to procure a quicker more athletic lineup. Anderson is a 5th year senior forward who plays an outside-inside game and is most known for his long-distance shooting and tenacity rebounding the ball under the glass.

The other two starters are a pair of sophomores in Salim Stoudamire and Channing Frye. Stoudamire is probably the best pure-shooting player in the conference, shooting over 45% from 3 point land and over 90% from the free throw line. Despite averaging 30 minutes per contest as a true freshman, Stoudamire may actually see that number decrease with McDonald's All-American Hassan Adams lurking in the wings. Frye is almost undoubtedly the best center in the league and one of the most promising professional prospects at his position nationwide. He should give interior players fits this season on both ends of the floor and his presence will create havoc for smaller players in the paint.

The Cats' bench has three players that would start at many other Pac-10 schools. Will Bynum is a freakish athlete who is still learning how to play within a team concept. He gets out of control at times off the dribble and tends to shoot too much. Isaiah Fox is a big, strong interior player who should spell Frye and do just fine defensively and on the glass. He's also pretty effective within 5 feet of the basket on offense. He's had some trouble with his weight but seems to finally have it under control. Dennis Latimore is an almost unbelievable physical specimen who has struggled at finding his niche.

Recruiting Class Grade: A

It really doesn't get much better than this: Arguably the two best prep back court player on the West Coast, a world-class athlete from the Midwest, and a project with enormous upside. Adams, a McDonald's All-American, is a high-flying scorer who may be difficult to reign-in early in his career. However, he could also play significant minutes early in the season, even keeping Salim Stoudamire on the bench at times, something that is almost unfathomable considering how good the 2001 Pac-10 freshman of the year is. Andre Iguodala, equally as dynamic as Adams will see most of his minutes at the small forward and may be good enough to cut into Rick Anderson's minutes via a Luke Walton move to power forward. Both Adams and Iguodala are likely Pac-10 all-freshmen candidates and either has a chance at winning the freshmen POY if enough minutes are handed down by Olson. Rodgers received an eligibility reprieve from the NCAA after just barely achieving a qualifying test score despite his ‘B' average in high school. He will likely see limited duty backing up Gardner and compete with Will Bynum for first-off-the-bench honors at the position. Dunn will redshirt in order to add size and strength as well as change from predominately an interior force to a player with a more versatile outside-inside game.

Noteworthy:

- Jason Gardner has been named as an honorable mention All-American or higher in each of his three seasons, but is looking for (and likely accomplishing) his first first-team honor this season.
- Gardner and Luke Walton are on the pre-season lists for the Wooden Award and the Naismith Award, both given annually to the best college player in the nation. Both players have a realistic chance at winning those awards.
- The Wildcats are pre-season #1 in the Associated Press pre-season poll. They go on the road to face pre-season #2 Kansas in January.
- The UA schedule is quite a bit more relaxed this year compared to last season's one, that proved to be the toughest in the nation by a wide margin.
-Lute Olson is entering his 20th season at the helm of the Wildcats and has led the team to the best winning percentage over the past 15 years of any Division 1 school in the country, achieving 15 consecutive 20 or more win season.
-The Wildcats have been the to NCAA Tournament 18 seasons in a row.

Outlook:

Anything less than a final four berth would have to be disappointing for a team of this caliber, depth, and experience. When it's all said and done this squad has a chance to be Arizona's best ever. Jason Gardner's even gone as far as to say that going undefeated in conference play is something he's thought about. While Lute Olson has said that Gardner's words show "youthful exuberance" . However, don't believe for a second that the thought hasn't crossed even his mind once or twice(or more) as well.

Pac-10 Prediction: 15-3
Postseason: NCAA

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