Upon arrival on campus at Arizona, however, Latimore struggled with the level of competition and then saw his playing time dissolve to around 10 minutes per night. A position change added to the difficult transition from high school star to college role player. Basically, Latimore never got into a good rhythm and some fans grumbled about him being a "disappointment".
The coaching staff, especially former assistant Jay John, the new head coach at Oregon State, never lost faith in Latimore. John wasn't shy about saying that Latimore was about to be "scary good". He showed flashes on occasion, but never put together that singular breakout performance that might have enabled him to finally get into a groove. As a sophomore now, those flashes will have to come a lot more frequently and on a consistent basis.
Before leaving on a ten-game, 23-day tour of Australia earlier this summer, the coaching staff talked about getting guys like Latimore increased playing time Down Under against solid competition. The former Halstead (Kansas) High School star made the most of his minutes, averaging double digit points and nearly eight rebounds per game on 55% shooting.
"The Australia trip was great," Latimore said from his Tucson home. "It really helped me and I played pretty well. It got a little long after 23 days, but it was an experience of a lifetime."
Latimore returned home to Kansas for three weeks after getting back from Australia but has been in Tucson working out and staying in basketball shape ever since. Until he got invited on this most recent trip, that is.
Latimore was invited along with teammate Channing Frye as well as some other big named college players (Ricky Paulding of Missouri, Ben Gordon of UConn and Torrey Morris of Pitt) on the five-game tour. The first two games were in Istanbul, Turkey where the American team beat the Turkish National Under-20 team by twenty points and then lost to the Turkish Under-25 team by 15.
"Turkey was okay," Latimore said. "The problem was that you couldn't drink the water, so I had to brush my teeth and then rinse off my toothbrush with bottled water. It was different."
The final three games took place in Italy, first in Milan and then in "some city in the mountains," Latimore said. The U.S. went 1-2 in those games, beating Slovenia by 20, but then losing to Germany and Italy by double digits.
"Italy was the worst team we played but they had the hometown and the refs going for them in that game," Latimore said. "Most of those teams have been playing together for years and we just started playing with each other a few days before (the trip)."
Over five games, Latimore averaged seven points and seven rebounds, splitting time equally with Pitt's Morris (Latimore's roommate on the trip) and Frye.
"Channing played well," Latimore said. "He probably averaged around 12 points and nine or ten rebounds per game. We had Ben Gordon from Connecticut shooting a lot, he probably averaged around 20. Ricky Paulding struggled offensively but he's a good player and a really cool guy."
Latimore roomed with Pitt's 6-10 center Torrey Morris and said that they got along very well while Channing and Syracuse's ultra athletic sophomore-to-be Hakim Ward shared a room.
"This trip helped a little bit but it took away from time in the weight room (at UofA)," Latimore said. "I've lost ten pounds since the season ended and I'm down to 245 now. I have less body fat and more muscle mass and that's helping my quickness. In high school I was about 15-20 pounds lighter and I could do a lot more."
Now that he's back in town for good, Latimore has been working with Arizona strength coach Brad Arnette, doing plyometric drills for more explosion in his legs that will benefit both jumping and his quickness.
"Ricky (Anderson), Isaiah (Fox) and one of the walk-ons, Phil Torres, and I are in town working out and playing a little," Latimore said. "Chris Rodgers went back to Oregon (last Wednesday) but he was here too. Everyone has to be in town for a team meeting August 20th and then school starts after that.
With the equivalent of an additional half season's worth of games under his belt, Latimore should come into his sophomore year with a much-improved game.
"I feel good," he said. "I like it here. Tucson is my home now. I can't wait for the season to start. It's fun being on a team that might be ranked number one in the nation, especially after not being ranked at all to start last year."
A slimmed down and quicker version of Latimore, not to mention a more confident Latimore, might wind up being the piece that puts Arizona over the top for another National Championship in 2003. There is no question he has the talent and the ability to be a force on the college level. It's like coach John said during last season, "Dennis just has to go out and play. He's so smart that he tends to over analyze things instead of reacting. Once he does that…
He's going to be scary good.
Contact Ben Hansen at AZPointGuardU@yahoo.com