Confident Stoudamire basking in obscurity

For just about any other team across the nation, Salim Stoudamire might be a preseason All-American. Yes, even as a sophomore. The Lake Oswego, Oregon native played so well as a freshman both offensively and defensively that it's not a stretch to say that he has a chance to match or exceed his cousin Damon's career accomplishments at Arizona. If he does so, however, don't expect to hear much about it, especially not from Salim himself.

An interview with Salim Stoudamire – the reigning Pac-10 Freshman of the Year – means that the person asking the questions had better have done his homework prior to speaking with him. In fact, the reason one of the main principles of journalism during an interview is not to ask closed-ended (yes or no) questions is because of people like Salim. To call the sophomore guard "the silent type" would be an enormous understatement.

Stoudamire stood alone during the recent basketball media day, surrounded by a few scribes from local papers, with a confident smile on his face. Usually the athletes that don't have much to say to the press are shy and withdrawn, but not Salim. He may not have much to say to the writers but the air of what he termed "supreme confidence" that he emits doesn't really mesh with the traditional silent and shy prototype. Instead, it's more of an I-know-something-you-don't-know vibe.

"I've always had supreme confidence in myself," said Stoudamire, who averaged 12.8 points per game as a freshman last year. "Nothing has changed about that this year but now I have it in the team too."

Stoudamire's confidence in his team is not a one-way street.

"Salim's teammates picked him as our best defender last year," Arizona head coach Lute Olson said of Stoudamire, who earned the honor even though he was often asked to guard guys five or six inches taller than he was because of Arizona's lack of depth on the perimeter. "That's pretty unusual for a freshman. He's also an outstanding shooter. Last spring in our practices leading up to the Australia trip, he shot the ball as well as anyone we've ever had here since Steve Kerr."

For the year, Stoudamire finished with a .443 field goal percentage. In and of itself, that number is not bad at all, but considering that he had three really bad shooting games, it could have been much better.

Against Kansas in the fourth game of the year, Stoudamire shot 2-19 from the field. All in all, it was a dreadfully forgettable performance. Later in the year, he shot 1-11 against Stanford and 2-11 against UC-Santa Barbara in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Throw out the combined 5-41 shooting totals from just those three games and suddenly Salim Stoudamire is a .502 shooter, which is flat out spectacular for a freshman shooting guard playing against America's toughest schedule.

As it is, those three games did count and were his low points of what was a very good freshman year.

Some of Salim's more noteworthy accomplishments in 2002 included:
*Being named the Pac-10's Freshman of the Year.
*Finishing with 434 points on the season, sixth highest in Arizona history for a freshman.
*Scoring in double digits 22 times.
*Making three or more 3-pointers in a game ten times.
*Setting a school record by making 39 consecutive free throws.
*Ranking fourth nationally with his .904 free throw percentage (God only knows what happened to him on the two occasions he missed more than one free throw in a game).
*Shooting 45.3% from three-point distance
*An outstanding 29-point outburst against USC to help lead Arizona to the Pac-10 tournament championship.

In the game versus the Trojans, Stoudamire shot 9-10 overall from the field, 5-6 from 3-point range and 6-6 at the free throw line. It was one of the best single-game shooting performances in recent memory at Arizona.

"Salim had a great freshman year," Olson said. "And we need for him to make sure that he has a great sophomore year as well. He needs to get his assist-to-turnover ratio more in line with what it needs to be (but) that will come with experience."

Surprisingly, Stoudamire – who wound up with only 38 assists to go along with 54 turnovers as a freshman – had more than two assists in a game only once. That's a very low amount for a guard, even if his role primarily is to shoot the ball. As a comparison, 6-8 forward Luke Walton had five games where he finished with ten or more assists.

As similar as Salim's game is to his cousin Damon's, the assist department is the biggest disparity. In fact, Damon Stoudamire piled up exactly double the amount of assists (76) that Salim did as a freshman in roughly half the playing time.

Standing only 6-1, Salim Stoudamire knows that his future in the NBA is limited as a shooting guard. Developing point guard skills is his ticket to the League but because of the tremendous amount of backcourt depth that the Wildcats possess both this year and next, the question becomes where will he find the time to see minutes at the point?

Already this season an improvement can be seen in Salim Stoudamire. He has put on about 10 additional pounds of muscle, he looks much quicker and he has been driving to the basket a lot more so than he did last year for scores.

"I went up to Portland for about a month this summer," Stoudamire said. "I worked out with one of Damon's best friends – and one of my friends, too – and I worked on my game and lifted on my own."

When asked if he feels stronger and better overall as a player coming into this season, Stoudamire once again stands there, chest puffed out, smile from ear to ear and says, "oh yeah. Definitely."

Stoudamire's worth to this Arizona team can't be measured by numbers alone. Sure, he's undoubtedly the team's best shooter and its third leading scorer from a year ago but it's the little things that he does that make him so valuable. Like defensively, for example.

As a freshman, Stoudamire's defender of the year honor from his peers wasn't based on statistics in the least. His defense isn't similar to former Wildcats like Reggie Geary or Jason Terry in terms of steals or blocked shots or anything like that. Salim is effective defensively because he constantly harasses his man, always getting into him and applying relentless pressure.

Olson, who tends to believe that most freshmen are less than adequate defensively coming into college, said that Stoudamire ranks among the best first year defenders since he took over at Arizona.

"When you take a look at Salim Stoudamire being selected as the defensive player of the year by his teammates last year, you'd have to throw his name in there with Hassan Adams and Andre Iguodala as probably the best defenders we've had come in since Reggie Geary." He said.

Again, there's nothing tangible to back up Olson's claim considering that Stoudamire totaled only 27 steals in 2002, an average of less than a steal per game (0.79). Yet, if anything defines Stoudamire as a player it is his intangible aspects he brings to the game.

Here he is, coming off of an award-winning freshman campaign and yet he gets barely a whisper from the national media and pretty much the same holds true from the locals. Instead, fans are consumed with the athleticism of the freshmen duo of Adams and Iguodala, Walton's all-around game and senior point guard Jason Gardner's run at the Wooden Award. Stoudamire is, much like senior forward Rick Anderson, the forgotten man.

Cousin Damon, one of the five or six best Wildcats in school history, watched as Salim bested nearly all of his numbers as a freshman in 2002 {see the table below for a comparison}.

Salim wound up with more points, a higher scoring average, more minutes played, and higher shooting percentages from beyond the arc and at the free throw line. Yet, as a sophomore, Damon was named to his first of three All-Pac-10 teams. It remains to be seen if Salim will follow suit in that department.

Even so, where's the notoriety? If he were playing at Louisville or Virginia, Salim Stoudamire would be a household name and a coast-to-coast star. Instead, at Arizona his name is lost somewhere in between the Walton-Gardner-Channing Frye and HassAndre talk.

But with Salim, that's just fine. Talk about him, don't talk about him, it's all the same to him. He'll be the guy in jersey No. 20, launching threes from five feet behind the arc and playing relentless defense 100% of the time he's in the game.

Wearing that supremely confident smile and not saying a word the whole time.

Category Salim (2002) Damon (1992)
Games Played 34 30
Points 434 217
Points Per Game 12.8 7.2
Assists 38 76
Field Goal Pct. .443 .455
3-Point Pct. .453 .406
Free Throw Pct. .904 .771

The Stoudamire basketball family tree.
*Charles (Salim's father) – Portland State, 1969-72
*Willie (Damon's father) – Portland State, 1969-72
*Tony (Salim and Damon's uncle) – Portland State, 1975-76
*Antoine (Salim's brother) – Georgetown, 1988-90; Oregon 1991-93
*Damon – Arizona, 1992-95
*Salim – Arizona, 2002-present.

Contact Ben Hansen at Bhansen6677@aol.com


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