Arizona Wildcats (Tucson, AZ)
2001-02 record: 24-10 (12-6, Pac-10)
Postseason: Lost, NCAA Sweet 16
Returning starters: 5
Projected Lineup: (*=returning starter; Incoming recruits in BOLD)
PG-Jason Gardner*, 5-10, 185 Sr. (20.4 ppg, 4.7 apg, 1.6 spg; 2nd team All-American in '02)
SG-Salim Stoudamire*, 6-1, 180 So. (13.0 ppg, .456FG%, .901FT%, .448 3pt%; 2002 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year)
SF-Luke Walton*, 6-8, 245 Sr. (16.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 6.2 apg, 1.7 spg; 1st team All-American in '02)
PF-Rick Anderson*, 6-9, 230 Sr. (13.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg, .495FG%, .400 3pt%)
C-Channing Frye*, 6-11, 235 So. (9.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.4 bpg, .587FG%)
Hassan Adams, 6-4, 205 Fr. F/G (McDonald's All-American and California state Player of the Year; won state title in 2002)
Isaiah Fox, 6-9, 265 So. PF/C (4.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg)
Andre Iguodala, 6-7, 215 Fr. SF (2nd team Parade All-American and Illinois state Player of the Year)
Dennis Latimore, 6-8, 255 So. PF (3.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg in limited minutes as a freshman)
Chris Rodgers, 6-4, 190 Fr. G (26.9 ppg and Parade All-American as the Oregon state Player of the Year)
Will Bynum, 5-10, 185 So. G (6.1 ppg in '02; super athlete)
Chris Dunn, 6-7, 180 Fr. F (17.2 ppg, 12.5 rpg as All-New Mexico performer; four-time state champion)
Recruiting class grade: A+
--The Wildcats landed four outstanding athletes with size, each of whom dominated within his own state. In Adams, Iguodala and Rodgers, Arizona inherits three statewide Players of the Year from basketball-rich areas in California, Illinois and Oregon. All three were Parade All-Americans while Adams also earned a spot on the prestigious McDonald's All-American team. Adams and Dunn led their teams to state championships as seniors and Iguodala's team finished second. The two newcomers expected to contribute the most immediately are Adams and Iguodala. Both are fantastic defenders and competitors with excellent size and athleticism for their position. Rodgers is a combo guard capable of handling either the point or the off-guard spots. He might be better suited as a scorer but with the kind of talent he'll have surrounding him, his playmaking skills should come out a lot easier than they did with his less-talented high school teammates. Members of the coaching staff called Dunn, "THE sleeper recruit in the country". He needs to add muscle and might redshirt in 2003 but he has been referred to as the best athlete "we've ever had at Arizona". That's saying a lot.
Gem of the Class: Andre Iguodala, SF
--Adams could just as easily be the gem of the class but Iguodala has the size and athleticism that could allow him to take over as the starting small forward for Arizona while Luke Walton moves to the power forward spot and Rick Anderson becomes the sixth man. Iguodala has stated publicly that he wants to come in and win the defensive player of the year award in the Pac-10. When told that there wasn't one, he simply said, "well then make one". Adams is the exact same kind of competitor and relentless defender, if not more so. Even with all five starters returning as well as the entire eight-man rotation from 2002, it will be these two freshmen that decide whether or not Arizona can win its second National Championship this April.
*Jason Gardner is a three-time All-American point guard who is about to surpass 2,000 points for his career. He is also 10th all-time on Arizona's scoring list with 1,512 points. In fact, there are about a dozen records that Gardner should come away with at some point during his senior season. He has been a 3rd team All-American (freshman year), an honorable mention All-American (sophomore) and a 2nd team All-American (last year as a junior). He has a chance to become the only player in NCAA history to make all four teams if he's named to the 1st team in 2003.
*In a poll of college basketball beat writers around the nation, Walton was the runaway favorite to win the 2003 NCAA Player of the Year (and Wooden) Award. Gardner was voted second, followed by Kirk Hinrich of Kansas, Chris Duhon of Duke and Brandin Knight of Pittsburgh. Here's one man's comments: Knight doesn't belong on that list, Walton is the best all-around player but Georgia's junior SF Jarvis Hayes is the best player period.
*With the development of rising sophomores Channing Frye (6-11 C) and Dennis Latimore (6-8 F), Arizona is expected to have fixed all of its weaknesses from a year ago. The major weakness was in defending opposing athletic wings. Adams and Iguodala have addressed that issue and now Frye and Latimore will help create a presence down low for the Wildcats. Frye is the star of the future for Arizona and he could wind up landing a spot on the All-Conference—if not All-American—team. Latimore simply needs more playing time to blossom and the coaching staff has said repeatedly that the muscular rebounding machine is "about to be scary good".
*Arizona's most talked about game comes on January 25th when the Wildcats invade Kansas for a showdown matching the likely No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country. While that game will get all the press, word is that the games Arizona are most looking forward to will come against Oregon. The Cats will play the Ducks in their second and last games of the conference schedule. Last year, Oregon destroyed the Cats twice, by 30 and 10 points, disrespectfully.
*After playing an obscenely difficult schedule with a roster full of freshmen and juniors last year, Arizona only has a handful of games against nationally ranked competition in 2003. Western Kentucky, Kansas and several Pac-10 schools should be ranked during the times they play the Cats. Some have made an issue over Oklahoma's dropping of the December game in McKale Center, saying that the Sooners "bailed" on what would have been a likely loss. This writer couldn't disagree more. If Oklahoma EVER had a chance to win at McKale it was this year. In fact, the Sooners are the third best team in America, behind only Arizona and Kansas and they are loaded with veterans from last year's Final Four team. The game in 2004 will be just as anticipated.
--Considering that Arizona has the best starters, bench, coaching staff, recruiting class and tournament experience of any team in the Pac-10 (and in the nation, for the most part), anything less than a Final Four berth would be highly disappointing. Arizona will have a great chance to win every game that it plays in and, with the exception of at Kansas and at Oregon, should be favored to win all of its games prior to the NCAA Tournament. Will this team go undefeated? No. But it could get very interesting along the way. The prediction here is that Arizona and Kansas split the season series with Arizona's win coming at the most important time: the last game of the season for the national title in New Orleans. The Proud Tradition rolls along…
Pac-10 Projection: Champions
Postseason chances: National Championship or bust.
June 25-ASU (5th)
June 26-USC (6th)
June 27-UCLA (3rd)
June 28-Stanford (9th)
June 29-Cal (4th)
June 30-Oregon (2nd)
July 1-Oregon State (8th)
July 2-Washington (7th)
July 3-Wazzu/Pac-10 Awards (10th)
Today-ARIZONA (Champions) Ben Hansen can be reached at AZPointGuardU@yahoo.com