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Arizona coaches had a chance to conduct 10 practices prior to leaving to Australia for its 23-day journey down under. Those 10 practices were designed primarily to get some of last year's reserve players more playing time and to get the team into game shape for the Aussies.
Arizona can boast two All-Americans on its roster in guard Jason Gardner and forward Luke Walton, but it was the play of another lesser-known Wildcat that got the coaches attention: sophomore forward Dennis Latimore.
Latimore was Arizona's highest rated freshman from last year's class but was often times the last of the five rookies to get into a game. He struggled with the level of competition, his footwork, his shot and his confidence. The only area in which he lived up to his billing was his rebounding, where he showed he is capable of being a monster with his aggressiveness and athleticism.
Former Arizona assistant coach Jay John said numerous times last year that Latimore was "about to be scary good". He showed glimpses of his potential late in the season, especially against Cal in Arizona's last home game when he scored 12 points in extended playing time.
Lately, it seems like Latimore has made even more progress than he did dating to that game against the Bears in early March.
"Dennis has been playing extremely well," Arizona assistant coach Rodney Tention said. "Instead of thinking, he's just playing and he's playing hard. He had three great practices this week."
If Latimore can maintain that level of play through the 10 games in Australia, Arizona might have found a reason to make Ricky Anderson a sixth man in favor of a more physical presence that Latimore brings to the table.
Playing physical wasn't a strength of the Wildcats last year. At times it seemed like the only two guys on the floor going for every missed shot were Walton and the 5-10 Gardner. Some of that was due to the fact that freshmen Isaiah Fox and Channing Frye needed to work on their physiques in order to maximize their talent.
Fox was overweight and couldn't jump while Frye wasn't strong enough to match-up with guys like Sam Clancy, Dan Gadzuric or Chris Christoffersen. Even with six months remaining until the start of the season, both of the young big men have made significant strides.
"Isaiah's running better already," Tention said of the 6-9 Fox. "He just needs to play and he'll continue to get better."
Arizona strength coach Brad Arnett took it a step further with his praise of Fox's progress.
"Isaiah Fox has lost around 28-30 pounds since he's been here," he said. "It's kind of a sliding scale when you're trying to lose weight, keep it off and then add strength. He can definitely become a guy that gets stronger in his lower body and that's the key to developing explosive ability like jumping and quickness."
Fox arrived at Arizona last fall at close to 285 pounds but is down to the mid-250's right now. Keeping that weight off and building his fast twitch fibers in his leg muscles is the next challenge.
Channing Frye has put on a little weight and is up over the 230-pound mark. Arnett says that Channing has a great frame to work with and is capable of putting on plenty of muscle before the start of practice in October.
"When he got here he had some droopy shoulders," Arnett said of Frye. "Most of that was because he had weak rotator cuffs. We took care of that so that now when he lifts weights it goes to building mass on his (shoulders and back). Guys get here and all they want to do is bench press and squats but they don't realize that you have to work on all of the smaller surrounding muscles to get the most out of your body. Channing has made a ton of progress since he got here and he'll make even more before he leaves."
Another freshman from last sesaon, guard Will Bynum, will get a chance to prove himself while in Australia. Bynum will run the point for the second rotation of Wildcats. That means he'll be joined by Jason Ranne, Latimore, Fox and Andrew Zahn most of the time.
One source close to the program told me that Bynum would be doing himself a favor if he would sit down and watch a tape of Mike Bibby and how he's been playing for the Sacramento Kings in their current series against Dallas.
"The problem," the source said, "Is that Will would rather pop in a tape of Allen Iverson."