Looking ahead to next year

RALEIGH, NC--It's like the early 90's all over again. After a tough first round loss, Wildcat fans are left pointing to next season. There is a difference this year. This year the Wildcats underachieved all season, not just in an NCAA Tournament game. This year depth and team chemistry problems knocked the Cats out, not an unbelievable performance by a double-digit seeded team. UA fans are already pointing towards next season, and with good reason, this team should be loaded.<P>

Barring major surprises, next year's edition of the Wildcats should be an elite team. With the players who should return, and an infusion of new players, high expectations are not out of line.

This year's team had a lot of promise, but also had a lot of flaws. Even before internal strife affected the club their were a lot of holes to fill. There was no leader, no post depth, no overall depth.

That shouldn't be a problem next year. The Cats look to be loaded. High expectations are not only allowed, they should be encouraged.

The Wildcats should return almost every player. Of the contributors, only Andre Iguodala has wavered in his intent to return. Iguodala will almost assuredly test the pro waters. He may come back, but odds are if the NBA Lottery beckons, the sophomore is gone.

While losing a player of Iguodala's potential is never a good thing, his loss can be overcome. The Cats should have depth at the wing. Hassan Adams will get to move back to his natural position, while Chris Rodgers showed this year that can play all three backcourt positions. The addition of McDonald's All-American Jawann McClellan makes this unit potentially a great one. With Iguodala it is the nation's best.

The best news is that the Cats will actually have depth in the frontcourt. Channing Frye is no longer alone. Isaiah Fox returns after missing most of the season with a knee injury and he will immediately take a lot of pressure off of Frye, who received all of the attention from opposing post players. Depth should no longer be an issue. Ivan Radenovic and Kirk Walters will have the whole summer to work out and Mohamed Tangara gives the Cats the rebounding banger they have lacked all season. In a perfect world Walters will redshirt, but he has been working hard in an effort to be a contributor next season.

The biggest thing the Cats need is Mustafa Shakur to become a vocal leader on and off the court. Shakur left no doubt that he is immensely talented, but now he must become the leader. Olson wants Shakur to take a role like a Jason Gardner or Jason Terry, and Olson has indicated that he is confident that will happen.

The Cats have plenty of point guard depth. Rodgers showed he can play their for stretches and Dillon is also able to play both guard spots. Still, expect Shakur to log as many minutes as possible, as Olson wants the ball in his hands.

Maybe the biggest question mark is Stoudamire. His attitude was a major problem for the team this year, but Olson had little recourse in nipping the problem in the bud due to the lack of depth. With the addition of Dillon and McClellan, Olson now has the option of actually punishing Stoudamire if he gets out of line.

The Cats still have a lot of questions. Some will be answered soon, like who goes pro. The staff has already indicated they want answers from potential pro prospects sooner, ratter than later.

The leadership and chemistry issues are not so easy. You can't just create a leader. You can't make teams get along. However, things appear to be headed in the right direction. Olson's faith in Shakur is encouraging. Depth will mean that distractions can be better dealt with.

There is a lot of hope for next season. At first glance it looks to be one of those special years, much like 1998 and 2001. All the pieces are in place for a team than has the ingredients to go deep into the Tournament and contend for a national title. A lot can happen between now and next fall, but at this stage things look great.

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