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I. Gardner's Assault on the Record Book
Arizona junior point guard Jason Gardner is doing his best to rewrite the record book with his performance this season.
While it is true that Gardner was the NCAA's Freshman of the Year in 2000 and a preseason first-team All-American in 2001, it has taken what he has accomplished so far in 2002 to give him the national recognition he deserves. Already this year he has been named MVP of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, won a national player of the week award and is still one of the 20 finalists for the Wooden Award as college basketball's best player.
With his 20.4 scoring average and 4.8 assists per game, Gardner is entering some rarefied territory in Arizona history.
Gardner currently ranks 16th all-time on the Arizona scoring list, having just passed Ernie McCray with his 1,351 points. Next up on the list are Joe Nehls, Steve Kerr and Jason Terry. If Gardner stays for his senior year he is a virtual lock to join the Elliott's (Sean and Bob) as the only Wildcats to score over 2,000 points in their careers. Gardner is also on the verge of becoming the 10th player in Arizon history to record over 600 points in a single season. Going into the Stanford game, Gardner has scored 531 points on the year.
Here are some more categories in which Jason Gardner ranks highly.
*His 434 assists rank him 10th all-time, just nine behind Steve Kerr for ninth place. The career record for assists, 810 by Russell Brown, remains safe.
*Gardner is currently second on the Wildcat career list for three-pointers made (232) and attempted (623). Only Damon Stoudamire ranks ahead of JG with his 272-677 marks. But don't expect that to last long.
*With 29 more three-pointers this season, Gardner will surpass Steve Kerr for the single season record. Gardner is at 86 now while Kerr's record of 114 in 1987-88 is a possibility.
*The Wildcat point guard already ranks number one all-time in minutes played per game over a career with his 35.4 average. That is what you call an "Ironman".
*Though he is not likely to threaten Jason Terry's career steals record, Gardner does currently rank 8th all-time with his 159 thefts, four behind Mike Bibby for seventh.
*Perhaps the biggest record that Gardner has a chance to break if he stays at Arizona for his senior year is Sean Elliott's career games played mark. Through the ASU game, Gardner has played in 96 games as a Wildcat and will get at least four more this year to bring his total to 99. Considering how good Arizona should be next year, it's not a stretch to think that Gardner will break Elliott's record of 133 games played sometime during 2003's Pac-10 tournament.
II. The True Value of Luke Walton
Considering the fact that Luke Walton is 6-foot-8 and 242-pounds, it is amazing to know that he will end the season as the Pac-10's leader in assists.
At that size, one would guess that rebounding was his strength, not passing. Last year, Arizona had Michael Wright (6-7, 235) as its power forward and he made a career of going after rebounds with his size and strength.
Wright averaged 8.4 rebounds per game for his career, 7.8 a year ago. Walton is currently at 7.6 rebounds per game, not bad at all considering that he plays the small forward position instead of the more rebound-friendly power forward spot.
Where this comparison really gets interesting is in the assist category. Remember, these are two guys who are almost identical in size playing similar positions.
For his career, Michael Wright tallied a whopping 40 assists. That is not a misprint and yes, he was a "Black Hole". If the ball went into Michael, it was just like light entering the Event Horizon of one of nature's biggest mysteries: gone forever.
Now, take Wright's 40 career assists and put them next to Walton's 146…from this YEAR. In fact, Walton has had five game stretches this year during which he has totaled more than 40 assists. That is where the true value of Luke Walton's all-around game comes into play the most.
Walton is big enough to bang with the nation's strongest players as evidenced by his eight boards per game and yet he is skilled enough to pass like a point guard. He is averaging 6.4 assists per game, far and away the best total in the Pac-10 (USC's Brandon Granville is a distant second at 5.5 per game) and is certain to become the first non-guard to lead the conference in assists. Nationally, Walton is 13th in assists per game.
Throw in the fact that he averages 15.4 points and two steals per game while shooting nearly 50% from the field on a top 10 team and you've got a legitimate All-American candidate.
Looking ahead to 2003, there aren't more than two or three players in America who might be better than Luke Walton will be. With Arizona expected to be one of the top contenders for next year's national championship, look for Luke Walton to join his dad as the NCAA's first-ever father and son first-team All-Americans.