After a successful three-week tour of Australia, the Arizona basketball team is back home for the summer. In finishing 8-2 on their ten game schedule, the Wildcats accomplished exactly what they set out to do: give some of the reserves valuable playing time.
Rising sophomores Dennis Latimore, Isaiah Fox and Channing Frye all made the most of their extended minutes and their experience should pay immediate dividends for the Wildcats going into the 2002-03 season. A season in which Arizona is the prohibitive favorite to win the national championship.
Assistant coach Rodney Tention split the head coaching duties with recently promoted Josh Pastner on the trip, each coaching give games. And while Pastner certainly did a good job for such a young leader, Tention managed to finish a perfect 5-0 Down Under.
"We both should have been 5-0," Tention said. "It's no special feeling, certain things just went wrong in the games we lost. We turned the ball over way too much and that's something that we'll have to fix going into the season. Everyone had a good time (on the trip) and I thought everyone played well."
The only negatives on the trip were the turnover problem, Ricky Anderson's injury (which is not believed to be serious), Will Bynum's return to Chicago to be with his ailing mother and Jason Ranne's wrist injury during the last game. Apparently, someone undercut Ranne and he landed on his wrist, resulting in a bruise and a minor sprain.
"Jason Ranne made the most of his chance to play," Tention said of the junior walk-on from Oklahoma. "He was super. He never makes mistakes and he just doesn't do anything to hurt the team, he's very solid."
The play of Channing Frye, while brilliant at times, might be slightly misleading. There were games in which Frye was being played by a guy nearly six inches shorter than him and the amount of quality big men in Australia is roughly the same as the number of quality pitchers for the Colorado Rockies: very few.
"I think all the big guys made progress," Tention said. "Dennis (Latimore) played well and improved, Isaiah Fox played well and made progress. Channing put up the numbers but he still has a lot to learn, he's still very young. With Andrew (Zahn) leaving all that means is that maybe Luke (Walton) can play more at the (power forward position). Ricky is still there, too. We'll be fine. It frees up a scholarship in the future but who knows when we'll use it. We're not going to bring anyone else in this year. Still, you never like to see someone leave the program."
While Zahn is leaving Arizona, the attention of the coaching staff has now turned to finding players from the class of 2003 to enter the program. The strategy, it seems, remains simple: sign at least one big guy and from there, anything goes.
Approximately ten prospects are currently on Arizona's list of targets, with six being guys that the staff must really be homing in on. The speculation here is that the six guys are the usual suspects: Brian Butch (6-11 F/C, Appleton, WI), David Padgett (6-11 C, Reno), Ndudi Ebi (6-10 WF, Houston), Ekene Ibekwe (6-9 PF, Los Angeles), Mustafa Shakur (6-3 PG, Philadelphia) and Ayinde Ubaka (6-3 PG, Oakland).
The pressing issue for the staff is to land an elite level combo forward like Ebi. And while he is likely still Arizona's top prospect, expect some added push from Lute Olson and Co. towards Butch for a commitment. The combination of Ebi and Butch would be ideal seeing as how it is unlikely all three scholarships will be used on the class of 2003.
However, in related news, the class of 2004 is not even being looked at right now it seems. The sole focus from the Wildcats is on guys set to begin their senior seasons in high school this fall. The summer camps, which begin in earnest next month, will certainly tell us a lot more about whom Arizona is genuinely serious about.