This year, the Arizona basketball team is having more fun than ever, and their joviality in the locker room has energized the team sparking them through the Sweet 16.
Following the game yesterday, Salim Stoudamire summed up the difference between this year and last year.
"Last year we would have all been pointing the finger at each other," Stoudamire said.
Now Arizona is one game away from the Final Four. In their way is the formidable Fightin' Illini, with only one loss thus far this season. Now the question is, can chemistry reign supreme for the Cats, and propel them into the Final Four?
Friday was media day for both teams. Arizona was up first and the starting five arrived and walked up on stage. The first question was asked about Illinois.
"We're going to let Ivan (Radenovic) take this one," said Olson.
Radenovic answered in his native language of Serbian.
The entire team began laughing, and Radenovic's face lit up as the respective media members chuckled. It was a moment that signified much more than just a small joke. It was not a spur of the moment thing. It was a pre-planned prank by the most unlikely person.
"It was Coach Olson's idea," Radenovic later explained.
When a Hall of Fame Coach is able to joke around with the media prior to one of the biggest games of his life, keeping his team loose, that is how you know that the chemistry is present.
Over the past few weeks the players have spoken and joked around each other. One such situation occurred following the UAB victory in the locker room.
"The potatoes were great," said Frye. "I didn't get enough of them."
"Did not having enough cause a lack of energy on your part?" I jokingly asked, referring back to an earlier comment.
"No that was the pornos he was watching," kidded Jawann McClellan.
"No, it was the Saturday morning cartoons," added Rodgers.
It was a moment that clarified an issue that many people worried about all year. The chemistry is present. If this team did not like each other, they would not joke around. Odds are they would barely even talk to one another.
"My first daughter can marry Salim (Stoudamire)," Kirk Walters joked following the last second shot against OSU. "That's all there is to it."
That comment, despite its tone, explains how close this team is to one another. They are not merely players on a team. They are a family. They kid, they joke and they genuinely seem to like each other. In Boise the fun thing to do was shine a laser pointer into the face of whoever was being interviewed. No one got mad for having their television time interrupted. They merely sought out the laser to get the next teammate.
Even the coaches are in on it. Players talk about how Olson and McClellan have a unique dynamic.
"Jawann (McClellan) and Lute (Olson) have a grandfather/grandson type relationship," explained Frye.
Apparently McClellan laughed at Olson when the coach tripped over a clipboard in the locker room following one of the season's first practices. No one else dared to laugh. Now McClellan and Olson are practically wrestling buddies, getting each other in headlocks and going out of their way to bump into each other.
Other coaches are not immune either. Rodney Tention is known to goof on a player. He was front and center as players were imitating Frye. Jim Rosborough routinely slams Josh Pastner on radio interviews. Even after the great win over Oklahoma State, student assistant Jack Murphy blamed the poor second half free throw shooting on Pastner, who was in earshot of the joke.
This is a team that is having fun. That was sorely missing a year ago, when players were feuding and pointing fingers. While the players are having a blast off the court, nothing would be more fun that getting a win on Saturday.
Nothing, that is, except for getting three more wins.