Ebi's gone, are Cats better or worse off?

Now that Ndudi Ebi has chosen the NBA over Arizona, many onlookers are left wondering if it was worth it. The Wildcats spent a lot of time and effort courting him, only to see him choose the NBA dollars. Was Ebi worth it? Was the chance of seeing him suit up worth the headaches? Are the Wildcats actually better off without the talented Texan?

A lot of fans are already spinning the loss by saying the Cats are better off without him. Surely a lot of that type of supposition comes from being spurned by the talented forward, but there could also be some merit to the argument.

There is no denying that from a talent standpoint the Wildcats are a better team with Ebi in uniform. Ebi is the type of player that the Arizona program, and most programs for that matter, have never had. He's 6-9, can shoot and is considered the best shotblocker in the recruiting class. He's a taller Andre Iguodala, a more athletic Ricky Anderson. He's cut from the same cloth as the new breed of NBA small forwards like Kevin Garnett, Pao Gasol and Dirk Nowitzki. He's a legit 6-9, has a knack for the glass, yet he can dribble the ball and guard a player like LeBron James.

Ebi has been praised for his attitude and hard work. He would likely start right away for the Cats or at the very least he would have been the first big man off the bench and averaged 20+ minutes a game. Despite his abundant skills, there is some concern whether or not he'd be good for the Cats.

If Ebi had come to Arizona he would almost assuredly be a one-and-done player. Although he told Arizona coaches that he would give them a two-year commitment, most observers felt that keeping a 6-9 player with his skills in school for more than one season was remote. Many argued that one year with Ebi was better than not having him at all. By March they all pointed to Carmello Anthony as an example. Here was a sure-fire NBA player who won a title in his lone year at Syracuse. However, as of now he's the lone one-and-done player to cut down the nets. Of the last five National Champions only Syracuse failed to have a junior or senior as one of their best players.

2003 – SYRACUSE (Carmello Anthony, Fr.)
2002 – MARYLAND (Juan Dixon Sr., Chris Wilcox So.)
2001 – DUKE (Shane Battier Sr., Jay Williams So.)
2000 – MICHIGAN STATE (Mateen Cleeves Sr.)
1999 – UCONN (Rip Hamilton Jr., Khalid El Amin So.)

Players like Eddie Griffin, Dujuan Wagner, Rodney White and Jamaal Crawford surely made their teams better, but they did not propel them very far. Zach Randolph and Donnell Harvey both played key roles in Final Four teams, but neither would be considered the their team's best and neither won it all. While there is a chance Ebi could have led Arizona deep into March, history says that it would be the play of upperclassmen who take the team to the promised land. Ebi could be the final piece of the puzzle, but would he settle for being a complimentary piece to a championship puzzle?

Others have wondered how the team chemistry would be with Ebi at Arizona. Would Iguodala and Fox be happy losing playing time to the freshman phenom? Would Chris Dunn and Kirk Walters be content sliding down one spot in the rotation. Would Channing Frye, Salim Stoudamire and others be happy giving up shots to a guy who is likely not going to be on the roster in 12 months.

Ebi has already had an impact on the roster. Dennis Latimore came to Arizona with thoughts of being an inside-outside player for the Wildcats, but he quickly saw the writing on the wall. With Fox and Frye ahead of him and Dunn shining in practice, the thought of the nation's top power forward recruit coming to campus had to be the final nail in the coffin. Had Ebi announced his intentions of at least testing the pro waters then maybe Latimore is still around to bolster the Wildcats in the post.

Assuming that Ebi would negatively affect team chemistry is pure speculation. By all accounts he is charismatic and well liked by his high school and summer league teammates. For all we know he'd be welcomed with open arms and be the spark this Wildcat team needs. He could come to Tucson, fall in love with the environment and decide to stay two or three years. He could have the same impact as Anthony and lead the Cats to their second national championship.

While this could have been the result, there was some evidence to be wary of. Several people close to the situation have pointed out that Ebi seems to love drama. His whole recruitment was kept close to the vest and even his parents did not know what school he would attend until his press conference. He waited until the last minute to inform Wildcat coaches about his decision to stay in the draft. He also played games with the media. He told several media outlets that he would not do a solo workout in Chicago, only to impress the scouts with his skills. His creative ways to cut phone calls short has become legendary with media members. None of these tactics necessarily meant he would be a bad teammate or person, but it did raise eyebrows.

One positive benefit of Ebi going to the NBA is that the Cats can better recruit. Had Ebi been in the program there would be questions from recruits about how long he was staying. Now the Cats can recruit with the knowledge that there is immediate playing time with Frye likely gone and Fox having only a year of eligibility left. Now the Cats can pursue Marvin Williams or any other inside player with the full knowledge of who will be on the roster when they arrive in 2004.

As it stands we will never know what Ebi would have meant to the program. He was the best big man recruit to ever sign a letter of intent, but his legacy will be similar to that of Stephen Jackson, what could have been. Ebi will most likely hear his name called by David Stern at the later half of the first round next week. Barring a major surprise (like the team selecting Ebi asking him to spend a year in school) the Cats will go to war without him. We will never know what kind of impact he would have. We'll never know what the Cats would be like with him. We'll only be able to see how they will be without him.

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