Who's the leader?

The Arizona basketball team is the deepest in the country, and every columnist for every magazine and newspaper in the country is on the Wildcat bandwagon. I even heard Mr. Duke, Dick Vitale say that Jason Gardner is the best player in college basketball on ESPN last month. The only area that anyone can question about this team is the fact that with all this talent, who is the leader?

Last year, as the Wildcats battled through the toughest schedule in college basketball, Jason Gardner took over. Whenever the Cats needed a basket, a steal, a 3-pointer, Gardner was there. The reason that the Cats relied so much on Gardner to be their go-to guy was because he assumed that role in the very early stages of the season. When Gardner was not stepping up, Luke Walton was. Walton would make a key pass, pull down a big board or get a critical bucket. This season, however, the Cats have not had a person who is their one leader that they can rely on for a clutch play, because the team is so deep that everyone contributes.

In college basketball a team can never have too much talent, but every successful team has the one player who is the leader. This year the Cats have been led by a barrage of players; Ricky Anderson has played great, Will Bynum has stepped up, and Gardner has been, for the most part, consistent. Against San Diego State, it was increasingly clear that, at times, the Cats needed someone to step up and be "the man." I kept hoping that Gardner, Walton, or Anderson would simply take over the game, yet the scoring was fairly even and the Cats rallied as a unit. That approach was good enough to escape San Diego with a single digit win, but will not be enough to beat teams like Texas, Kansas, or Oregon.

The game against Texas this Sunday could be the game that solidifies the true leader of this team. Texas will bring their best game to McKale, and when the Cats need a basket someone is going to have to step-up and take the shot. I understand that anyone on this team is able to be the leader, and know that with all of the talent and depth that on any given night one player can stand out as the star, but the Cats will need to solidify one player as the go to guy that they can always count on to get them the score this season.

Of course Gardner seems to be the logical candidate. He's led in the past and he's the guy who can score in bunches, dish out assists and make things happen on the defensive end. With Walton out, Gardner has an even bigger responsibility to get his teammates involved.

Rick Anderson seemed like an unlikely leader just a few months ago, but as his play has improved, so has his role with the team. Early last season Anderson was great in the clutch and he was instrumental in the San Diego State game. Anderson has become more vocal and appears to be very comfortable on both ends of the floor. With his inside/outside game, Anderson can make key buckets and if his early season play is any indication, he could be a strong defensive presence.

Luke Walton and Salim Stoudamire are both being nagged by injuries, and that is a probable reason for why the Cats have not had a person emerge as the concise leader. Yet, as the season progresses, the team will need a player to rally around. Hopefully on Sunday the Arizona squad will not only play as a cohesive unit, but will solidify a player, whether it be Gardner, Walton, Anderson, Bynum, Stoudamire, or anyone else as the man who wants the ball in crunch time with the game on the line.

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