2002 Team Preview, part 1

This seems to be the year for Arizona Basketball. Less than two months from the start of the season many decisions and events have already fallen Arizona's way.

First, and probably most importantly, Jason Gardner has returned for his senior year. Luke Walton also decided to stay. While this wasn't a big surprise, stranger things have happened.

Sophomore Will Bynum decided against transferring, though many schools would have taken the 5-10 guard.

Andre Igoudala, a big recruit out of Illinois, arrived in Tucson after originally signing to play at the University of Arkansas.

Finally, Chris Rodgers, another big-time recruit, arrived on campus but did not know if he was going to be eligible to play. In September Rodgers was deemed eligible by the NCAA and on that day the stage was set for perhaps Arizona's best team ever to try to bring home national title number two.

While I might be ahead of myself, this team has a chance to be very good and really cause some damage this year. What is different with this team, as opposed to great Arizona teams of the past, is this one has legitimate depth. This team is going to be legit 11-deep, which is going to wear a lot of teams down as they will have to play their tired starters or less talented backups. Look at Arizona's backup backcourt players: Will Bynum, Hassan Adams, and Chris Rodgers. How many starting Pac-10 backcourts would you take over those three? Of course Oregon, but not too many besides that. Then you look at players like Igoudala, a vastly improved Dennis Latimore, and Isaiah Fox. These players do not even start but could start almost anywhere else. The hype is there, as most magazine and media experts pick them as the top team in the nation. But the appropriate cliché is "no titles are won in the preseason", and this team will have to produce. Here's how I feel the team will break down this year:

A look at the starting five:

Jason Gardner--Point Guard

Gardner is the heart and soul of the team. While Luke puts up great stats and is a big-time college player, he is not even close to being as important as Gardner. Gardner, the four-year starter, has been through everything as a college player and only a national title is missing from his legacy. Look for Gardner to take his game to another level this year with the new talent around him. The assists will go up due to the fast paced, full press style the team will play. With Adams and Igoudala sprinting down the wings, you have to think Gardner is going to be throwing up a lot of alley-oops this year. All in all, this is Jason's coming-out party, which should certainly help his NBA status for next year's draft. With his tremendous skills and talent, he is the best player in college basketball this year. Season Outlook:  Player of the Year candidate

Luke Walton--Wing Forward

While Gardner is its' heart and soul, this team can't accomplish its' ultimate goal without a good season from Luke. While Luke does not have big athleticism or an automatic shot, he is very consistent and effective. He handles himself in the lane very well and is an excellent passer for his height. This season he won't creep up on anyone and might have a slightly worse season stats-wise. That coupled with the fact there is a lot of small forward talent on the bench might hurt Walton's personal stats due to multiple. Even so, look for Walton to be a vital cog in this team's performance and have to put up numbers for Arizona to win. Season Outlook: 2nd or 3rd Team All-American

Channing Frye--Center

Frye is key to the success of the Arizona season. If he provides a top-notch low post threat, this team becomes nearly impossible to defend. Frye appears to have developed into a dominant player but no one will tell how much he has improved until he plays a few games. Last season Frye could dominate in some stretches and disappear in others. This season he needs to find a common median and become less unpredictable. All signs point to a breakout year for Frye, as his competition is not as fierce and he has a year of playing under his belt. He also has put on some weight and should be able to bang down low a little better this season. Look for Frye to have a very solid season and become a top center nationally. Just don't hope for his season to be too good, as we all want him back for his junior year! Season Outlook: 3rd or 4th Team All-American

Rick Anderson

Anderson is really the forgotten man on this Arizona starting five. He sometimes disappears and looks real sloppy, but he won some games for Arizona last year. He has great range on his shot for being 6-10 but can't really drive or guard athletic opposing fours. Being a previous starter and a senior, it definitely looks like he will have the starting four spot, but with players like Adams and Igoudala on the bench, Walton could take the four spot and one of the previous-mentioned players could start. Anderson does not have to put up big numbers for this team, but he can't be a defensively liability, as he has been at times in his career. Anderson should give the team around 10 PPG and six RPG, which will be all the team will need from him. Season Outlook: Staring Power Forward

Salim Stoudamire

Salim comes into the season as the starter at the shooting guard spot. In almost any other scenario, the reigning conference freshman of the year could come into the season relaxed in terms of playing time. But when you're playing for a pre-season number one team nothing is safe. There are many competent guards looking for minutes and with Jason Gardner essentially locking up the point guard spot, Salim's two-guard position will be in hot demand. Salim is no doubt a very good player but his numbers could be down to the overflow of perimeter talent. He should start the season as the shooting guard, but with McDonald's and High School All-Americans on the bench, there's no guarantee. Season Outlook: Starting Shooting Guard

Next Week: A look at the bench!!!

[Editor's note: This is Simon Ogus' first contribution to Cat Tracks. If you'd like to comment on the story or contribute a piece yourself, e-mail Brad Allis at cattracks_1@yahoo.com ]


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