Salim's senior season a dream

He may be the most maligned player in school history. He's more known for his scowl than his sweet left-handed jumper. His legacy will be that of a malcontent, not as one of the best players in to pass through the Arizona program.<BR> <I>This is a sneak peak at a story in the next issue of Wildcat Insider Magazine, on newsstands next week.</I>

In the end Salim Stoudamire just wants to be known as a good guy.

"It bothers me a little bit," Stoudamire said of his legacy. "I know I'm not a bad person. Opinions are like rear ends. Everybody has one."

The Oregon native has had his run-ins with Lute Olson, but his actions have been limited to the court and the locker room. He's not a bad guy, just a tough guy to get along with.

"The worst thing about him is that he's a perfectionist and you can't play this game and be perfect," Olson said. "You can work on being perfect. In the past, if he hasn't done really well, he's let it affect how he plays."

Sadly, people just assume Stoudamire is a bad guy. He has been lumped in with his cousin Damon's off-the-court problems.

The younger Stoudamire has never had legal issues. He's never faced an academic suspension. He's never had any accusations of any kind other than he pouts and has been a distraction to the team.

Of course, those distractions have been major and almost led to Stoudamire's ouster.

He was a major reason, though not the only reason, why the Cats had chemistry issues a year ago. He sulked, he scowled and he did not get along with some teammates. He was not alone. He was not the only malcontent.

He was, however, the oldest and expected to be a leader.

After the Cats disappointing first round loss to Seton Hall in the NCAA Tournament Olson called Stoudamire into his office. No one is quite sure what was said. Olson may have offered Stoudamire one last chance. Others have said that Olson told his talented guard he had to transfer and that Stoudamire returned to beg for one last chance.

Either way the message was clear. "Shape up or ship out".

Stoudamire shaped up.

"From last March to now it has been as big of a change in him than I've seen in anyone," Olson admitted.

Salim would be the first to agree that something had to change.

"For about a month and a half I worked out with my cousin Damon. I realized a lot of what I needed to work on had nothing to do with my physical skill, but more so my mental skills," Stoudamire said. "I have been aware of things that I was doing that was causing the destruction of the team. Things like scowling, getting on guys when I should have been encouraging. I finally realized that I had to change."

Damon helped him by drawing on his experiences with another maligned player.

"Damon told me that Coach used to get on Khalid Reeves all the time too," Stoudamire said. "I realized that it just wasn't me."

His senior season, and his career as a whole, has been nothing short of remarkable. He scored 662 points this year, seventh most in school history. All-time he is fourth on the school's scoring list with 1,960 points, just 24 shy of Jason Gardner.

All he did this year was break school and conference three-point shooting marks, win three games on last-second shots and lead the Cats to a Pac-10 regular season title.

He did all of this while being a great leader. Yes, you read that right. The malcontent was now the leader.

"His leadership both on and off the court has been great," Olson said. "He is so much more vocal now than he ever was until the last year. Even more and more throughout the year you see him communicating with his teammates on the floor and having great leadership. He is doing it now in a positive way."

Stoudamire is a loner, but has worked hard to be a team guy. While he'd rather spend a night alone watching NBA games, listening to music or spending time with his girlfriend, he's made it a point to involve himself with his teammates. He invites guys to go out to eat or to other team functions like a bowling outing or parties. He may not be the natural leader that Channing Frye is, but he's working on it.

No one is going to work harder than Stoudamire. The guy is a gym rat. He shoots and shoots and shoots. He devours game tape like no other.

"No one watches more games on DVD than Salim," confessed student assistant Jack Murphy. "He watches so much tape that maybe we should have him on staff."

He truly loves basketball. It runs in his blood. His father and uncles were local legends at Portland State. Brother Antoine, whose name is tattooed on Salim's forearm, was a standout at Georgetown and Oregon.

And of course there's Damon. Arguably the first great Wildcat point guard. At least the first of the new breed of athletic point guards to excel at Arizona. It was Damon who paved the way for Salim.

Damon tipped the coaches off. The younger Stoudamire was well known, but had a lot of knocks against him. He was seen as too short, too moody and too one-dimensional. The Wildcat coaches took an extra look at Salim, in part as a courtesy to Damon.

They liked what they saw.

"I think if you look back at when we signed Salim, I thought he would be the best shooter here since Steve Kerr," Olson said. "I have been most please with the way he defends; he is a tough, hard-nosed defender. There are not very many teams where the top offensive guy is assigned to one of the toughest, or the toughest defensive assignment on a perimeter guy. We've had him guard everything from point guards to three-men.

"I'm not sure if anybody has worked as hard on their shooting as Salim has. Shooting is a hand-eye coordination thing. He has the quickness and athleticism so that he can get the shot off quickly. When Steve Kerr came here there was a lot of work to be done with him because he shot the ball down low. We had to work very hard at getting the ball off quickly because he didn't have the athleticism that Salim has."

Salim has been working on his shooting for as long as he can remember. He has a vivid memory of being a young child and going to a game his father was officiating. He recalls going out at halftime and shooting a regulation basketball on the regulation rim.

He was three.

"After I made that shot, I remember the crowd reaction," Stoudamire admits. "I loved it."

He says he knew right then he was a shooter. That's when the real work began.

"I worked on it in my early years," Salim recalls. "I started at an early age. I played with my brother a lot, and he was taller than me so I had to develop a quick shot."

He set Oregon scoring records at Lake Oswego High School outside of Portland. He averaged over 20 points a game over his four-year career and yet was never rated more than a top-70 player. He committed early to Arizona and that was that.

He has started since he got on campus. He had the unenviable task of replacing Gilbert Arenas, who left early for the NBA. He and fellow freshman Will Bynum battled hard for the starting shooting guard spot.

Only two things slowed Stoudamire down. His ankle and his attitude. He missed a number of games his first two years due to high ankle sprains and another three games to suspensions over his pouting.

Despite that, his freshman season was one of the best in school history. He became the fourth player at Arizona to be named Pac-10 Freshman of the Year. He was voted Mr. Hustle and Best Defensive Player by his teammates. He made a school record 39 consecutive free throws and shot 90.4 percent from the stripe.

The next year we saw the highs and lows, against the same team. He scored 32 points and was the best player on the floor as the Wildcats erased a 20-point deficit and beat Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas. However, in the second meeting, this time in the Elite Eight, Stoudamire was just 1-4 and was not on the floor down the stretch as the Cats fell to the same Jayhawks by three.

That's the way his whole career has gone. It has been a series of ups and downs. For every 30-plus performance, it seems there has been an emotional letdown that tarnished his image.

His senior season was special. He had the game winners against UCLA, ASU and Oklahoma State. Against Oregon he set the school single-game three-point mark with nine made three-pointers.

Sadly, the last view of Stoudamire that many Wildcat fans will have is of him trying desperately to get the ball from Hassan Adams with time ticking down against Illinois. This time there would be no last second heroics, Illinois denied him the ball and he never got a chance to send the Wildcats on in the tournament.

On the podium after the game he fought hard to hold back tears, but made no excuses.

He leaves the Wildcats with quite a legacy, one that may not be truly appreciated for years to come. He joins Steve Kerr as one of the two best three-point shooters in school history. He was a rare four-year starter and one of the best pure scorers to ever don the cardinal and navy. He won over 100 games and played in two Elite Eights.

After all of that the only legacy he wants is a simple one.

"I just want to be remembered as a good person."

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