*How many times over the course of this season have you heard fans of other teams ask, "when did Luke Walton get so good?" or say, "I had no idea Luke Walton was such a great player"? The answer is "too many".
Arizona fans have had 28 games to watch Luke Walton transform from a so-called role player to the nation's preeminent all-purpose weapon. Walton is not just the Most Outstanding Player of the Pac-10 tournament, he is one of the most outstanding players in all of America, and not next year, but right now.
It may sound like Vitale-esque Jason Williams hyperbole, but there is not a team or a player that can match-up with Luke Walton in the entire nation. He is a player so multi-talented that it becomes nearly impossible to neutralize him.
What does a team choose to stop? He's such a skilled ballhandler that he can get past defenders for easy scores on the strength of spin moves, crossovers and jump-stops in the lane. He's such a skilled post player that he simply backs down smaller defenders for his patented baseline turnaround jumper of up-and-under move that usually nets two points and a foul on his defender.
Here is an interesting fact about Walton that you may not know. He is the only player in Arizona and Pac-10 history to score over 450 points, grab over 200 rebounds, hand out over 175 assists and record more than 50 steals in a single season. He also shoots at nearly a 50% clip and does things for those around him to make his teammates better that cannot be measured or quantified.
CBS Sportsline moron Dan Wetzel named Indiana's Jared Jeffries to his second-team All-American team over Walton. And while making the Dan Wetzel All-American team is about as prestigious as winning the Exxon Valdez "Safe Driver" award, it is still an example of the rest of nation's ignorance of Walton's greatness. For the record, Wetzel also went public in stating that he didn't think Lute Olson was one of the ten best coaches in the country either, so his basketball credibility level is right around that of my dog Scout's.
There should be little doubt heading into the NCAA Tournament that Luke Walton is one of the best players in college basketball and THE best all-around player.
While we're on the subject of Walton, it's interesting to point out that in the history of college basketball, only three father-son duos have played in a Final Four and two of them have ties to Arizona.
Luke was a member of Arizona's National runner-up team last year and his father Bill Walton won two National Titles at UCLA in the early 70's. The other duo from Arizona (and UCLA) is Mike and Henry Bibby. That family has an amazing FOUR NCAA championships to its name. One from Mike in Arizona's 1997 championship year and three from Henry as a Bruin point guard during the time when UCLA won about 206 straight titles under John Wooden.
Rick Anderson, a Sophomore?
*Coming off of a redshirt year, Arizona forward Rick Anderson was listed as a junior in the team's media guide. While that classification is accurate in a literal sense, Anderson was nothing more than a green sophomore experience-wise.
Wildcat freshman guard Salim Stoudamire has played 933 minutes this year in 31 team games, numbers that seem just about normal for typical contributing freshmen nowadays. Consider the fact that before the start of this season, Rick Anderson had totaled a mere 709 minutes from his freshman AND sophomore years.
Essentially what you have is a more experienced sophomore with Anderson right now. That is why I firmly believe that next year, regardless of the abilities of incoming wing Hassan Adams, Rick Anderson will become the kind of player some people thought he would be this year.
Arizona associated head coach Jim Rosborough stated last summer that Anderson would, "be an All-American" before he leaves school. It's not likely to happen that way because both Luke Walton and Jason Gardner are virtual locks to make those kinds of lists next year, but Ricky will improve more than anyone not named Channing Frye in 2003.
Considering the difference between Ricky as a sophomore and Ricky now, the improvement is already exponential with room for more.
Salim "the Dream" Stoudamire: Record Breaker
*Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Salim Stoudamire is quietly putting together one of the best freshman seasons in Wildcat history. With his performance during Arizona's 81-71 victory over USC to capture the Pac-10 tournament title (29 points on 9-10 shooting), Salim slammed shut any arguments over whether or not he was a worthy winner of the FOY award.
In hopes of being a realist, I will say only this: we haven't seen anything yet.
First of all, let's go back to the USC game. Stoudamire made nine of his ten shots, an unbelievable feat considering he shoots from outside so much. But what is interesting is that the one shot he missed was shown on the replay boards at the Staples Center with Trojan forward Jerry Dupree slapping Salim's wrist as he let the ball go. The foul was not called and Dupree was credited with a blocked shot, but that's how close Salim was to playing a literally perfect game.
As it stands, he set an Arizona freshman record (under Olson) for points scored in a game with 29.
Salim is one of the best three-point shooters in the country with his 46% mark from beyond the arc and already holds the school record for free throw percentage at 92.1%. The freshman from Lake Oswego, Oregon also boasts an overall field goal percentage of 46% and recently became only the fifth Wildcat freshman to surpass the 400-point plateau in a single year. He stands at 407 points on the year, trailing only Gilbert Arenas (523), Sean Elliott (499) and Mike Bibby (458) and is just ahead of Michael Wright (404).
When Stoudamire cut the net down following the conference championship game, fans in the stands serenaded the freshman with chants of, "Three more years! Three more years!". If Salim stays three more years, he is going to break all of his cousin Damon's records. And not just Damon's records, but maybe some of Elliott's too.
The Jason Gardner Watch
*Gardner in the Arizona record book.
-Became the 13th player in school history to score over 600 points in one season during the Pac-10 tournament and now has 636 points (20.5 ppg) on the year. That number ranks eighth on the single season list and he will move into sixth place with just seven more points during Thursday's first round game against UC-Santa Barbara. A deep run by the Wildcats might mean Gardner joins Khalid Reeves and Sean Elliott (twice) as the third Arizona player ever to break the 700-point mark.
-Currently sits at 1,456 career points, which ranks Gardner 14th on the all-time scoring list. He trails former Wildcat NCAA Player of the Year Jason Terry by a mere five points (1,461) for 13th place and Bill Warner by six points for 12th (1,462). Could conceivably move into the Top Ten with two good games in the tournament. Sean Rooks is No. 10 on the list now with 1,497 points.
-Gardner's assault on Damon Stoudamire's career three-point records continues and he has now narrowed the gap considerably in both three-pointers made and attempted over a career. Gardner is second on the career list with his 246 threes and 656 attempts. Stoudamire is tops in both categories with 272 and 677. So, it's down to 27 makes and 22 attempts and Gardner will be the new three-point king at Arizona. He is also just ten three-point attempts away (256) from setting a new single season record for attempts in a year (265, by Stoudamire in ‘93-'94).
-Gardner's two threes against USC put him at an even 100 on the year, 14 behind Steve Kerr's single season record set back in 1987-88. The difference is that while Gardner is shooting a respectable 39% from behind the arc, Kerr shot a mind-blowing 57.3% when he made 114 threes in his record-setting year.
-Jason in other Arizona career top tens:
*Ninth in assists (449) but will move into sixth with nine more good passes.
*Seventh in steals (165), nine behind Damon Stoudamire for sixth all-time.
*Seventh in Games Started (100). Record is 133 by Sean Elliott.
*Fifth in minutes played (3,589). Elliott holds the record with 4,499.
*First in average minutes per game (35.5). Elliott is second at 33.8.