Depth pays off for Cats

After the mass exodus of players following the 2001 season Lute Olson vowed to never be caught short handed again. Since then, the Cats have stockpiled quality players at the same spot in an effort to always have quality depth. That strategy has paid off as the Wildcats could be without two of their top wings to start the 2005-06 season.

Chris Rodgers joins Jawann McClellan in being doubtful for the start of the season. McClellan is currently academically ineligible but does have an upcoming appeal with the NCAA due to the extenuating circumstances due to the death of his father over the summer. McClellan has also been slowed by a foot injury, which is supposed to be fine by the start of the season.

Rodgers looked to be the clear starter if McClellan was not able/allowed to go, but now he too could be out for up to two months. The senior has sprained his knee and will miss anywhere from one to two months.

While the loss of two talented players will certainly be a detriment, the Cats still have plenty of bodies, and talented bodies at that, to plug into the spot.

Arizona has stockpiled players at every position, especially wings. The thought was not to get short if players bolted for the pros or transferred, but the strategy is now a lifesaver due to the injury bug.

Many wondered why the Cats signed Jesus Verdejo in spring of 2004 and now that move is paying off. Verdejo saw spot minutes last season but has proved that he can get his shot off at any time and has all the tools to be a solid defender.

Over the summer Verdejo was driven to earn a starting job and now he may just have that shot.

Daniel Dillon was moved exclusively to the two-guard after last season and he may be the player who most resembles Rodgers. Like Rodgers he can handle the ball and could play spot minutes at the one, but is best suited to be a two-guard.

Marcus Williams looked to be ahead of the other true freshmen in terms of ability, but could have been lost in the shuffle with all of the older wings on the roster. Now Williams not only has a great shot at minutes, but could battle for a starting spot if his defense and rebounding are as advanced as his offensive game. He's one of the better shooters on the club and has really learned to attack the basket.

For Williams, and the other wings for that matter, this is a great chance to prove they belong in the rotation. When Rodgers and McClellan get back they will assume their roles again, but one of these other players could cement his spot in the rotation and earn more minutes than he would if the Rodgers and McClellan were not out of action.

If the two are out an extended period of time it could have a trickle down effect on other players. Fendi Onobun seemed to be designated to play mostly at the four this season, but could now see minutes at the three backing up Hassan Adams if the other players are not producing. With his size, J.P. Prince has the build to play shooting guard and small forward. He could also see extra minutes at the point as well. Rodgers was not expected to play a whole lot of minutes at the point, but now that isn't an option and Prince will be the definite number two.

Of course the point could be moot if Rodgers is back in four weeks and McClellan wins his appeal. You can bet the Cats will not rush Rodgers back if the younger wings respond well in practice. Of course, Rodgers needs a strong senior season to get a look by the pros and you can bet he will do everything in his power to return at the earliest possible moment.

As for McClellan, his academic suspension has some extenuating circumstances. He failed a summer school class because he missed too many sessions, but the sophomore was splitting time between Tucson and Houston dealing with matters due to the death of his father.

The stockpiling of depth has not always paid off. In 2004 the Cats thought they'd be loaded in the post, but lost Dennis Latimore to transfer, had incoming freshman Ndudi Ebi jump to the pros and saw Chris Dunn ruled academically ineligible. Just two games into the season Isaiah Fox injured his knee, leaving the Cats with just two pure post players. All the Cats did was go out and found Ivan Radenovic for the second semester.

The only problem with stockpiling so much talent is that it usually leads to a player or two becoming unhappy and transferring, but so far the strategy has paid off. The Cats have been able to weather the early defection of Andre Iguodala and various injuries and suspensions that have occurred.

Lute Olson never wanted to be caught short handed again, and so far the strategy has paid off.


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