Looking back at the last five NBA drafts a number of college teams clearly lead the way. Here are the top 13 colleges for producing players for the NBA draft, how many players were drafted and who the highest player taken was.
1. ARIZONA, 9, Mike Bibby #2
2. Cinncinati, 7, Kenyon Martin #1
2. Duke, 7, Elton Brand #1
2. UCLA, 7, Baron Davis #3
5. North Carolina, 6, Antuwan Jamison #4
5. Kansas, 6, Raef LaFrentz #3
5. Michigan, 6, Jamaal Crawford #8
8. Michigan State, 5, Jason Richardson #5
8. Stanford, 5, Jason Collins #18
8. Georgia Tech, Matt Harpring #11
8. Maryland, 5, Steve Francis #3
8. Minnesota, 5, Joe Przybilla #9
8. Kentucky, 5, Ron Mercer #6
The Thrill's Five reasons Arizona will win the 2003 National Championship
5. Luke Walton's all-around game.
--No one in college basketball has a more complete game than Luke Walton. The 6-8 senior forward led the Pac-10 in assists last season (6.3 per game) while also averaging 16 points and 7.3 rebounds. He brings so much to the table when he is on the floor that he is virtually unstoppable.
If an opponent focuses on stopping him from scoring, he will set up at the point and find cutting teammates for easy baskets and if they want to take away his playmaking skills, he can drive to the basket or hit turnaround jumpers on the baseline for quick points.
John Wooden has called Walton one of his favorite players and says that the best players in basketball are those that make those around them better. Without question Luke Walton is that kind of player. Everyone on the court with him benefits tremendously from his presence and intelligence. Wooden named him a first-team All-American last year and he is almost certain to receive that honor once again as a senior.
4. Playing an extremely difficult schedule in 2002.
--Since Arizona's entire nine-man rotation returns this year, everything that happened in 2002 serves as a springboard into the upcoming season. Think of it as the first half, if you will.
With the constant big-game pressure and preparation of 2002, the young Wildcats found that they either had to step up their level of play or get embarrassed otherwise. Because the level of competition was so good, the Wildcat team improved a lot faster than it would have playing a lighter schedule.
Guys like Channing Frye, Salim Stoudamire, Rick Anderson and Isaiah Fox benefited from the high level of play because it made them improve. And thanks to games against a dozen ranked teams a year ago, Arizona has not only proved to the nation that it is more than capable of beating America's best, it has proven to itself that it can beat the best, something much more important.
3. The arrival of four big and athletic freshman wings.
--A year ago Arizona had no answer when it played teams with big, athletic wings. Oregon took the Cats apart twice because of guys like 6-5 super athlete Freddie Jones and the versatile 6-7 forward Luke Jackson. Oklahoma used a trio of players 6-5 or taller to exploit Arizona's weakness of guarding athletic wings with size and ended the Wildcats' season in the Sweet 16. The list goes on and on but what's important is that the list will be nonexistent in 2003.
Arizona successfully recruited its top four targets, all players with size, athleticism and versatility. Each of the four recruits stands at least 6-4, a huge upgrade from last year when the 6-1 Salim Stoudamire was forced to defend guys 6-6, 6-7 at times.
*Oregon Player of the Year Chris Rodgers (6-4 CG) is very strong and can play both guard positions. He led the state of Oregon in scoring with nearly 27 points per game and also developed a reputation as a clutch performer in big games. Coaches call him a guy who will defend well from the get-go.
*McDonald's All-American and California's Player of the Year Hassan Adams (6-4 G/F) is a super athletic perimeter player with an intensity level on a completely different plane than most incoming college freshmen. His relentless style of play both defensively and offensively might translate into immediate playing time this fall.
*Arizona also signed the Illinois state Player of the Year in 6-7-wing forward Andre Iguodala. "Iggy" was thought of as a defensive stopper before his offensive game reached new heights during his senior year. He will remind many of former Wildcat star Richard Jefferson with his athleticism and defensive ability but he might be a bit more polished than RJ was at this point.
*Perhaps the most athletic of the four recruits coming in this season is 6-7 Chris Dunn, who was the New Mexico state Player of the Year. Although he's considered a project because of his lack of strength, the Wildcat coaching staff has raved about his potential and one coach even stated publicly that Dunn is the most athletic player Arizona has EVER had.
With those four newcomers, expect Arizona's defensive deficiencies to disappear in 2003. Arizona's main problem just got fixed.
2. Jason Gardner's competitive drive and refusal to let his team lose.
--Other than being a three-time All-American, Wildcat point guard Jason Gardner brings something to the table that cannot be measured: tremendous heart. In fact, Gardner belongs in the same sentence with former Arizona greats Sean Elliott and Miles Simon when it comes to leadership, determination and clutch play. The difference between Gardner and the other two legends is that Gardner is even more of a warrior.
Arizona faced multiple 15-point-plus deficits last season and Jason Gardner led his team back to victory on almost every occasion thanks to his will to win.
*UCLA was up 20 with 12:00 to play but three minutes and a couple of Gardner big baskets later, Arizona was ahead by one and went on to win by ten.
*Oregon State shot the lights out en route to a 21-point lead before Gardner exploded for 34 points in leading Arizona back to a seven-point victory.
*Stanford led by 15 points in the middle of the second half at Maples Pavilion until the Wildcat point guard took the game into his own hands and willed Arizona to an impressive six-point overtime win.
He has come up big in so many big games that the 2003 season should only serve notice to the rest of the nation about Gardner's greatness.
Gardner said that he would only return to Arizona for his senior season if he could get full-blown commitments from the rest of his teammates to give everything they had in every game in '03. They must have made that commitment because Gardner is indeed back in a Wildcat uniform. And if they can come anywhere near matching Gardner's level of competitiveness, Arizona simply won't allow itself to lose.
1. Dennis Latimore's improvement.
--Critics point to Arizona's lack of strength in the paint as reason to believe the Cats won't be cutting down the nets in New Orleans next April. To an extent, those critics aren't very far off with their comments.
Last year, the combination of Anderson and Fox didn't always get the job done against bigger, more physical power forwards like USC's Sam Clancy and Oklahoma's Aaron McGhee. Latimore's progress was slow as a freshman but if he plays the way the coaching staff has said he is capable of playing, Latimore could take over at the four position and become an impact player.
Latimore has the physical skills, the size and the athleticism to be a big time player in college basketball and the staff believes he might improve to a much higher level very, very soon. He recently scored 22 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in an exhibition game in Australia, which is a dramatic improvement from his freshman year averages of three points and three rebounds.
"Dennis has been playing extremely well," Arizona assistant coach Rodney Tention said. "He just needs to play and he will be just fine. He dominated the last three practices (before leaving for Australia)."
Former Wildcat assistant and current Oregon State head coach Jay John repeatedly told the media that Latimore was, "about to be 'scary good'."
If that's the case with Latimore, expect nothing less from Arizona.
The 2003 Wildcats are going to be 'scary good', too.