Cats' 2003 roster beyond loaded

Live, from Tucson, it's the Arizona Wildcats vs., the Arizona Wildcats (?) for the Pac-10 championship. Arizona's THIRD team is so good that the five guys making up the "White squad" are thinking about seceding to the Mountain West Conference, where they would immediately replace Wyoming as preseason favorites in 2003. And if that's the case, just how good are Arizona's first two teams?

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I. This is not an original thought, but in my opinion, Arizona's second five (bench players) is talented enough to be ranked in next year's Top 25 polls. Think about it, it's likely that you'd have a lineup of Will Bynum, Hassan Adams, Andre Iguodala, Dennis Latimore and Isaiah Fox. Oh, and then there's Chris Rodgers, Chris Dunn, Andrew Zahn, Mike Schwertley and Anas Fellah, too.

I'm sorry but next year's roster is sick! Practices will be better than any game next year not including Kansas and Oklahoma.

II. With Arizona having what seems to be a plethora (yes, El Guapo, I do know what a "plethora" is) of talented players in its backcourt for 2003, there has been speculation that it might cause a logjam in the playing rotation and make some of the guys unhappy.

Having Jason Gardner, Salim Stoudamire, Will Bynum, Hassan Adams, Chris Rodgers as well as possibly Andre Iguodala and Chris Dunn all as part of the perimeter attack gives Lute Olson one very valuable asset: options.

Now when Bynum starts reverting to his Chicago playground days or Salim has a Kansas-like shooting day or when Gardner is in the midst of one of his annual shooting outages, Olson has plenty of choices off the bench. Gardner and Stoudamire will almost surely be the starters once again in '03, but who's to say that Adams or Bynum can't take over for one of them by the start of Pac-10 play?

Because I want to save most of my "good stuff" for my big Jason Gardner feature, I only have one interesting fact to give you here about his shooting slumps during his first three years as a Wildcat.

Gardner has had seven prolonged shooting slumps since he's been in an Arizona uniform, at least one per year. When I say prolonged, I mean slumps that cover at least three games. In order from worst to "least-worst", here are those slumps.

*4-37 (.108) during his freshman year.
*8-36 (.222) during sophomore year.
*6-25 (.240) during freshman year.
*15-50 (.300) during junior year.
*17-56 (.304) during freshman year.
*7-22 (.318) during sophomore year.
*12-37 (.324) during junior year.

What's the most disheartening thing about Gardner's career as a very mediocre 40% shooter, is that he is a mere 9-37 (.243) in the three games Arizona has been eliminated from the NCAA Tournament the last three years. Want worse? He's only 2-21 on his three-point attempts in those losses to Wisconsin, Duke and Oklahoma. That's 9.5%, folks.

But you know what? Jason Gardner, like Miles Simon and Jason Terry before him, is a guy who simply finds another way to beat you if his shots aren't falling. Give me one game for all the marbles and only one guard to choose from and I'd take Jason Gardner every time. Warriors and leaders aren't measured by their shooting percentages.

III. Before the signings of Andre Iguodala and Chris Dunn, many believed that Adams and Rodgers would be Arizona's best-ever two-man recruiting class. Both are top 25-type players on a national level and both were named Player of the Year in their respective states (California for Adams, Oregon for Rodgers). The addition of Iguodala and Dunn is almost and embarrassment of riches. However, even if Iggy and Dunn had chosen to play for Kansas or Oklahoma, Adams and Rodgers would have still been enough to warrant a preseason No. 1 ranking for Arizona in 2003. That's how good those two guys are.

Yet, there might be an even better two-man class heading to Tucson after the '03 season has ended. If Arizona is somehow able to land its top two priority recruits, 6-11 center David Padgett (Reno, Nevada) and 6-9 wing Ndudi ("Indy") Ebi (Houston), it will be the best two-man class not only in Arizona history, but possibly in Pac-10 history as well. That's how good THOSE two guys are.

IV. NBA rookies Richard Jefferson (New Jersey) and Gilbert Arenas (Golden State) will both find themselves on the All-Rookie team when the announcement is made later in the week. Jefferson, who helped lead the Nets to the Atlantic division title and the No. 1 seed in the Eastern conference playoffs, is an almost certain lock to be on the first team. Arenas, with his post-All-Star break explosion, came on late but will still likely make the second team. Had Arenas played all year it's easy to project him battling Memphis' Pau Gasol for NBA Rookie of the Year honors. Gil's going to make people regret not drafting him for a long, long time to come.

The other two Wildcats that were chosen in last June's NBA draft, Loren Woods and Michael Wright, had almost polar opposite-type seasons. Woods was the odd man out in Minnesota's frontcourt rotation, playing behind the likes of Kevin Garnett, Joe Smith and Rasho Nesterovic. He only averaged 8.6 minutes per game and took the dreaded "Did Not Play-Coach's Decision" numerous times. However, counting Woods out after only one year on a talented team loaded with veteran big men would be a mistake. He has the talent to be a real contributor in the League for many years…if, of course, he keeps his head on straight.

Wright, on the other hand, was terrific overseas in the EuroLeague. His team, Slask Wroclaw of the Polish League, made it to the Sweet 16 of European basketball and Wright was its best player. The former power forward at Arizona was again a model of consistency when he averaged around 16 points and eight rebounds per night. The funny thing is that that was pretty much what he did every time he stepped on the floor at Arizona from his freshman year on. He doesn't ever really improve and he certainly doesn't get worse. He's just one of those guys you can pencil in certain numbers from on a nightly basis. He could do the same in the NBA, his numbers just wouldn't be quite as high.

V. Arizona's next big-time pro? According to the coaching staff, it might be afterthought recruit Chris Dunn. They refer to him as "THE steal of this year's recruiting class in the nation" and who are we to doubt them? This is the same staff that signed hidden gems like Arenas, Luke Walton, Jason Terry, Channing Frye and Steve Kerr.

Arizona is loaded with talent at every position this year but the one guy that I most want to see more of is Dunn. He's as intriguing a recruit as I can ever remember at Arizona.

{TheThrill22 can be reached via e-mail at}

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