Looking Ahead: Replacing the seniors

The 2005-06 season came to an end on Sunday and already Wildcat fans are looking ahead to next season. The thought around Tucson is that the Wildcats could be very good and of a few things develop the right way, those thoughts could be accurate. The Wildcats will have to replace some key players, but will it be that tough?

Arizona loses three players from this team, but they are not nearly as difficult to replace as the last few seniors to depart. Channing Frye and Salim Stoudamire were truly special players and the Wildcats just didn't have a big man or an outside shooter who could step in and pick up the slack. Jawann McClellan was either ineligible or injured, so he never got to be the three-point specialist the Cats envisioned. Kirk Walters did not develop enough to adequately replace Frye, and NBA Lottery pick.

In many ways it was like the 2004 season where the Wildcats had to replace three seniors, Jason Gardner, Luke Walton and Ricky Anderson. Although the Cats could plug in some talented individuals, none had the intangibles that made the three, especially Gardner and Walton, so special.

Next year won't be as tough. Hassan Adams is the best of the three Wildcat seniors, but was not so dominant that he'll be next to impossible to replace. As good as Adams is, he is not one of the top-5 players at his position in school history. Frye was arguably the best big man in school history, a not worse than third. Stoudamire was the best shooter since Steve Kerr and ranks right up there with Kerr, Coniel Norman and Joe Nehls as the best to ever launch from the outside.

Adams' athleticism cannot be duplicated. He is in a class with Richard Jefferson and maybe Reggie Geary and Andre Iguodala, but no one else. However, his production can be duplicated. He was great, but the likes of Marcus Williams, Jawann McClellan and Chase Budinger have the skills to fill his scoring and rebounding totals. We saw Williams step up in Adams' Pac-10 Tournament absence and the other two are chomping at the bit to contribute.

Although he was a great leader, by season's end Williams, Mustafa Shakur and Ivan Radenovic had already assumed some of his leadership role. Adams was fiery, which the other three are not, but Shakur showed that he was ready to assume the leadership role that Olson envisioned for him when he took the Cats on his back in the late stages of the Villanova game.

Although Adams is at the top of the Wildcats' all-time steals leader list, he was not a great defender. He was solid, but again, not a player who is impossible to replace on the defensive end.

Although Lute Olson billed Chris Rodgers as one of the best on-ball defenders in school history, he too will not be impossible to replace. Let's be honest, in the NCAA Tournament Daniel Dillon had already replaced Rodgers as the first guard off the bench. Although Rodgers could be as good a defender as had ever put on the Wildcat uniform, he also had some mediocre days. He was just average against Houston's Oliver Lafayette and there were other occasions where players got the best of him. Although no one this side of Reggie Geary was better when Rodgers was on, he probably wasn't as consistent as Michael Dickerson and Richard Jefferson were at the end of their Wildcat careers.

It appears that Dillon can easily step in and be the defensive stopper of this team, while you have to expect Williams and McClellan to be solid defenders as well.

Offensively Rodger was inconsistent at best. Although he could fill it up at times but in the games following his reinstatement he eclipsed double figures just twice.

By the end of the season Isaiah Fox was nothing but an afterthought. Even before the back spasms ended his season, he was nothing more than a spot substitute. Walk-on Bret Brielmaier was more efficient and Fendi Onobun was more of an offensive and rebounding presence, despite being at least three inches shorter. Even Mohamed Tangara more points per game than Fox did, though not by much.

Fox was seen as a senior leader before the start of the season, but he was not even with the team on the last few road trips prior to the NCAA Tournament. It is hard to be a leader when you are not even in the rotation. The Cats may miss Isaiah Fox the person, Isaiah Fox the teammate, but they should have no trouble replacing him as a leader, in fact you could argue they already have.

Many have already stated that this senior class was a bust, and in some ways it was. Fox and Rodgers were really never more than role players. Adams was a great player for the Cats, the one guy in the class who lived up to his potential, but the Cats are well equipped with their current personnel to bring in comparable players.


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