Up until this season, the top five most productive freshmen under Olson have been (arguably) Sean Elliott (85-86), Mike Bibby (96-97), Michael Wright (98-99), Gilbert Arenas (99-2000) and Jason Gardner (99-2000). Bibby and Gardner won National Freshman of the Year honors during their initial seasons as Wildcats.
Stoudamire and Frye are making serious pushes to bust into that top five of the Arizona elite freshmen. Both have legitimate chances to win the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year award with Stoudamire probably being the prohibitive favorite going in to the final two games of the regular season. So, here is a breakdown of the top five freshmen under Lute Olson as well as a look at how Salim and Channing compare.
Sean Elliott, 1985-86: 15.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.2 apg, .486FG%.
*Arizona went 23-9 during Elliott's freshman year and won its first ever Pac-10 championship. That year also started what is now the nation's longest consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance streak (will be at 17 straight berths when the Field is announced next Sunday). Elliott won Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honors to cap off a great season.
Mike Bibby, 1996-97: 13.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 5.2 apg, 2.2 spg, .445FG%, .394 3pt%, .701FT%.
*The Wildcats went 25-9 in 96-97, finishing a disappointing fifth in the Pac-10 race. However, the Cats pulled it together and won the National Championship, beating three number one seeds along the way. Bibby was named to the All-Final Four team after winning both the Pac-10 and the NCAA's Freshman of the Year awards.
Michael Wright, 1998-99: 13.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg, .556FG%, .736FT%.
*Jason Terry and Wright led Arizona to a 22-7 record overall that year and a second place Pac-10 finish. Wright was named to the first-team All-Conference squad and won Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honors, becoming the third Wildcat to do so.
Gilbert Arenas, 1999-2000: 15.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.1 apg, 2.1 spg, .453FG%, .292 3pt%, .750FT%.
*Arizona went 27-7 that year and captured the West Region's No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament before injuries contributed to a disappointing second round loss. The Cats also won the Pac-10 title. Arenas was named the MVP of the Preseason NIT, which Arizona won, and was a member of the Pac-10's All-Freshman team.
Jason Gardner, 1999-2000: 12.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 4.8 apg, 1.6 spg, .378FG%, .363 3pt%, .729FT%.
*Gardner was named the NCAA's national Freshman of the Year yet somehow was only the Pac-10's third best first-year performer when Casey Jacobsen and Jason Kapono shared the conference's award for top freshman. Gardner, however, did manage to earn first-team All-Conference honors after the season was completed.
Salim Stoudamire, 2001-02: 13.0 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.9 apg, .443FG%, .452 3pt%, .926FT%.
*Arizona is very much in the hunt for the Pac-10 championship (co-, at least anyway) with its 18-8 record while playing arguably the nation's toughest schedule. Stoudamire is a lock for the conference All-Freshman team and is the odds-on favorite to win the Freshman of the Year award. Stoudamire has been so good lately that over the past 18 games, he has averaged 15.0 points per contest with an amazing .512 field goal percentage (84-164) and an even more impressive .511 (46-90) mark from three-point range. He has done all of this while also serving as Arizona's best and most intense perimeter defender. He currently ranks fourth in the conference in three-point percentage and leads the Pac-10 in free throw percentage (fifth nationally).
Channing Frye, 2001-02: 9.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.5 bpg, .593FG%, .784FT%.
*Channing set the school record for consecutive made field goals earlier this year by going 17-17 over a stretch covering several games. He has a 19-point, 10-rebound game against UCLA, a 22-point, 10-rebound performance at Stanford and an 18-point, 16-rebound outting at Oregon State, all games that Arizona won. Though he has struggled a bit of late, Frye is certainly a lock for the All-Freshman team and could win the award for the league's top freshman with two good games against Stanford and Cal this weekend.
While it's obvious that neither Salim Stoudamire nor Channing Frye have had seasons worthy of entering the "top five", both are definitely among the best freshman that the Wildcats have ever had. In fact, the way that the comparison is laid out is probably the way most would rank the top freshmen ever under Olson. From Elliott to Frye, that's quite a top seven.
Both Salim and Channing will go on to wonderful careers at Arizona with legitimate shots at All-American honors and futures in the NBA with continued progress. As for this season, it is Salim Stoudamire who is deserving of walking away with the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year award, especially considering his level of play over the last three quarters of the season.