Looking Ahead: Big Men

Possibly the most maligned spot on the Wildcat basketball team was the play of the post players. No post player had a consistent season and that had Lute Olson and the coaches scrambling to adjust the line-up and strategies.

The Cats return all of their big men sans Isaiah Fox. While some naysayers would argue that they'd rather lose a few more players, this should give the Wildcats nice depth in the middle. The big question is whether or not they will have players who are ready to step up and assume a bigger role next season. Ivan Radenovic is the closest thing to a sure thing in the middle. Once he healed his hand and the staff settled on an offensive scheme, Radenovic was arguably the Wildcats' most consistent player.

Radenovic was at his best when the Cats inserted a second big man and ran the high-post offense. The tactic allowed Radenovic to utilize his passing ability and his midrange jumper. He all but abandoned the three-pointer, but was deadly from 15 and showed an ability to drive to the rim that he had not shown in his previous two years in a Wildcat uniform.

Radenovic showed off his great feel for the game and as the season progressed he became more and more of a leader. Olson has already named Radenovic as a captain for next season and the expectations are high for him to continue, and even expand, his solid play next season.

The rest of the inside players have a lot to prove. Senior-to-be Kirk Walters has yet to develop as many had hoped. Lute Olson once boasted that Walters would be an NBA draft pick, but you have to wonder how much of that was dependent upon Walters actually getting the redshirt year he has been denied.

Walters had flashes of brilliance this season, especially when the staff was able to show him patience. He had his share of problems, most notably an inability to pass out of the post and suspect, at best, hands. He also proved to be a defensive liability at times, most notably against quicker players.

The good news is that Walters has gotten noticeably better every year and has worked very hard each off-season. This summer he plans on spending even more time in Tucson and should, at least, be in the best shape of his career.

If Walters can get a better feel for the game, he can be a more than effective center. He has some nice moves inside and has been decent at scoring from midrange, but needs to get a better idea of when to look for his offense and when to kick it out. Walters also needs to get stronger. He's added a lot of bulk in his three years, but probably needs at least 10 more to not get pushed around inside.

Bret Brielmaier was a pleasant surprise this season. Although he did not set the world on fire, he maximized his ability and was a great asset off the bench. The Cats know exactly what they are going to get with Brielmaier. He's going to give you quality minutes and top effort. He's also a guy who can bang inside and set some hard screens. Brielmaier will fine tune his game, especially on the offensive end where he can add a few weapons to his arsenal.

The biggest mystery may be Mohamed Tangara. While some fans may have written off the redshirt freshman, the staff still has high hopes for his development. Although he did not earn a lot of additional playing time, Tangara was much better by season's end. He looked a lot less lost and was better at avoiding fouls.

One thing that is often overlooked with Tangara is that he has yet to be healthy in a preseason. His development has been severely hampered by the fact that he has not been able to go through his full allotment of individual workouts and has sat on the sidelines for far too many practices. The fact that he is healthy now could be a huge boost. He will be able to take advantage of all of the preseason practices and pick-ups. He'll also get a full year in the strength and conditioning program.

No player will benefit more from the Wildcats' international tour than Tangara, who should get his most extended playing time against live competition. You can only simulate so much in practice and pick-up games, so the Cats will likely take a long look at Tangara while in Europe.

Although Olson believes his long-term success is at the three, expect Fendi Onobun to be in the mix at the four next year. With so many talented wings on the roster, the Cats will need Onobun's strength and athleticism down low.

There are not a whole lot of players like Onobun in the Pac-10 and he can be a match-up nightmare for teams. He has the strength top beat up on thinner player, but he has the quickness to take slower player out to the perimeter. He gives up a bit in terms of height, but makes up for it in his leaping ability and strength.

There are two wildcards here for the Cats. The first is incoming freshman Jordan Hill. Hill is a tall, athletic big man who is cut from the Channing Frye mold. Despite a solid senior season, he is still a work in progress. The prevailing thought is that he will redshirt, but if he can pick things up quick, there is an outside shot that he can see the floor right away, especially if other players struggle.

The Cats are still finalists for two big men recruits. Both Lance Thomas and Darrell Arthur have the Cats among their finalists. Both seem to be long shots as well. It is expected that Thomas will choose between Duke and Rutgers, while Texas and Kansas are thought to have slim leads for Arthur. The good news is that Arthur appears to be planning a visit to Tucson before any decision is made and that could bode well for the Cats.


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