2003 Pac-10 BB Preview: Number 3 Arizona!

<p class=txt>Three years removed from a National Championship, just halfway through the 2000 college basketball season, Lute Olson found himself down to six scholarship players, mainly as a result of injuries. In 2001, the 'Cats bounced back with a run to the national title game, but were again short-handed when they opened the 2001-02 season with just five freshman and three juniors. Ready for the same song and dance again? The Wildcats begin the 2003 season with just 8 scholarship players.

Head Coach: Lute Olson (21st Year)
Assistants: Jim Rosborough, Josh Pastner, Rodney Tention
Website: www.arizcats.com

2002-03 Pac-10 record: 17-1 (finished first; first seed); lost in the first round of the Pac-10 Tourney to UCLA.
2002-03 Overall record: 28-4; Ranked #1 for much of the season; Lost in the Elite 8 to Kansas, 78-75.
2002-03 Highlight: Arizona's season highlights were being ranked #1 in the nation throughout much of the year, and winning a huge non-conference game against Kansas in tough Phog Allen Fieldhouse. In the NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats won what may have been the best game of the year, a 96-95 double overtime thriller over Gonzaga.

Best Arizona quote:

"If you did not care who won, it was a great college basketball game. That was not a game for people who weren't willing to lay it out on the floor."

– Lute Olson on his Wildcats double OT win over Gonzaga in the 2nd Round of the NCAA Tournament. The game was one of the best contests ever played in the NCAA Tournament.

Key Losses:
Luke Walton 6'8 245 (10.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 5.1 apg, 38% 3-Ptr's) - departing senior; first team All Pac-10
Ricky Anderson 6'9 225 (10.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 37% 3-Ptr's) - departing senior
Jason Gardner 5'10 190 (14.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 4.9 apg, 1.8 spg) - departing senior; first team All Pac-10
Will Bynum 5'11 193 (7.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.5 apg) - transferred to Georgia Tech
Dennis Latimore 6'8 238 (3.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg) - transferred to Notre Dame

Recruiting Class:
PG - Mustafa Shakur 6'3 178 Fr - Friends Central HS, Philadelphia PA - McDonalds All-American
C - Kirk Walters 6'10 212 Fr - South Christian HS, Grand Rapids MI - All-State Michigan performer

Projected Starting Five (returning starters in Bold):
PG - Mustafa Shakur 6'3 178 Fr - Friends Central HS, Philadelphia PA - McDonalds All-American
SG - Salim Stoudamire 6'1 177 Jr (13.0 ppg, 1.8 apg, 44% 3-Ptr's) - Wooden Award Candidate
SF - Andre Igoudala 6'6 207 So (6.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.5 spg) - 2nd in steals for Cats in 2002-03
PF - Isaiah Fox 6'9 269 Jr (3.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg) - 2nd in FG% during 2002-03
C - Channing Frye 6'11 248 Jr (12.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.9 bpg) - honorable mention All Pac-10; Led AZ in blocks and FG%)

Key Returning Reserves:
PG - Chris Rodgers 6'4 200 So (2.5 ppg, 0.9 rpg, 1.0 apg) - avg. 8 mpg in 28 contests during 2002-03
SG - Hassan Adams 6'4 201 So (9.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.3 spg) - member of the All Pac-10 Freshman team

If there is one coach in the Pac-10 who can work with just a handful of players, the fiercely determined Lute Olson might be the man. Already a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, Olson's credentials are mind-boggling. Whether it's the 1997 National Championship, five Final Four appearances, 19 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances by Arizona, 10 Pac-10 Conference titles, or the nation's best winning percentage over the past 16 seasons, Olson is a legend.

"Lute's got a good program that's built on fundamentals and teaching," said former Cal Coach Pete Newell, his presenter at the Springfield, Massachusetts Hall of Fame on June 5th, 2002. "He strives for perfection and anytime you use that approach, you are usually successful."

Lute Olson has all the qualities of the great coaches. Perhaps one aspect that raises Lute Olson's coaching even above other legendary teachers is his constant adaptability. In just over 20 seasons in Tucson, Olson has displayed a continuing ability to make effective game-plan changes night after night. He is adept at dissecting a problem, communicating it to his players, and motivating them to adjust.

"Lute Olson is the finest technical basketball coach I ever have seen," said Ken Goe of the Oregonian. "His system is both disciplined and structured without being limiting. His players are have flawless fundamentals. They improve from one season to the next as much or more as any in college basketball. In his perfectly tailored coat and tie, he looks forbidding and intimidating. But one of the world's biggest hearts beats beneath the surface."

Olson's heart is both passionate and driven. Most programs would feel a certain satisfaction if they had been the nation's #1 team for most of a season, and earned a trip to the Elite 8 and an overall record of 28-4. But Lute Olson and his players felt that last year was a failure. When the Wildcats lost to Kansas in Anaheim, they fell a step short of the Final Four. And these days, that's the expectation every Arizona team has under this coach. The downside is, high expectations can result in failures and transfers.

One of the few negative aspects of Arizona basketball is the number of defections the program has suffered. Players have left early for Europe, the NBA, other universities, or just plain quit the game altogether.

In just the past five years the Wildcats lost Michael Wright, Richard Jefferson, and Loren Woods after their junior seasons; Gilbert Arenas and Mike Bibby departed after their sophomore years; and potential 2003 recruit Ndudi Ebi signed and left without ever playing a game at the McKale Center. And it seems to be getting worse.

Many college programs have to cope with the professional opportunities that exist for their players, so Arizona certainly isn't alone. However, the negative impact of these departures has been magnified in Arizona's case by their failure to recruit long-term role players who could provide team depth to the program.

Starting back in 1999 and continuing through last season, the mood in the Arizona program might even be described as a serious case of 'cabin fever' as we watch sophomores transferring out after the winter session. Some call them 'Snowbirds', the moniker given to folks who come to the Arizona desert for the winter - but leave soon after.

Four years ago, second-year player Travis Hanour returned west to San Diego State, and sophomore Ruben Douglass jetted south to New Mexico a year later, both citing playing time issues. Will Bynum went east to Georgia Tech last year in the middle of his second season, and sophomore Dennis Latimore quit the team and transferred north to Notre Dame shortly after Bynum. Andrew Zahn quit basketball after his two seasons in Tucson, and Chris Dunn failed out of Arizona without ever playing a game this summer. Even shooting guards Quynn Tebbs and Traves Wilson left after 1998.

Some say the problem can be traced to the recruiting process. Perhaps by awarding scholarships to players whose roles on the team are not well understood, the Wildcats have been left short-handed. Others disagree, but since it has been happening every other year in Tucson, the frequency suggests it's more than a one-time problem.

Olson commented recently about the sshorthanded squads he's had to deal with, primarily in 2000 and 2002:

"You face that on this level more so now because you never know how long guys are staying, or if they are coming at all. The Hall of Fame coach also stated, "I thought one year of doing that was enough, but obviously not."

At the current rate, Arizona might as well make universal keys for their dorm rooms.

Still, the players who stayed in Tucson last year are the ones worth talking about. The senior duo of Jason Gardner and Luke Walton contributed four solid years to Coach Olson's brilliant program, including the near-National Championship in 2001. Both Gardner and Walton had incredible confidence and earned numerous pre-season All-American honors. Ricky Anderson came on strong after the 2001 season, and the trio let the 'Cats to the Sweet Sixteen in each of the last two years. Few players have stayed committed to Arizona basketball in recent memory, so Walton, Anderson, and Gardner can now be mentioned in the same breath as Sean Elliot, Miles Simon, and Steve Kerr.

Arizona lost just four games in 2002-03; a 66-65 loss to LSU in Baton Rouge, an 82-77 loss to Stanford at home, a 96-89 loss to UCLA in the first round of the Pac-10 Tournament, and a 78-75 loss to Kansas in the Elite 8. Though all four losses stung, the Wildcats had an overall record of 4-4 against those same teams - including wins against three of the four on their home-courts during the regular season. They smashed the Bruins twice during the Pac-10 regular season, annihilated the Jayhawks by 17 in Lawrence, and beat Stanford in Palo Alto by three. If the 'Cats had another crack at LSU, there's little doubt they would have thumped them. Unfortunately, the only game most Arizona fans will remember will be the three-point loss to Kansas in Anaheim.

Replacing a point guard like Jason Gardner will not be easy; the former Mr. Indiana Basketball gave the Wildcats four years of timely baskets and great passes. In Arizona's great legacy of point guards, Gardner will rank with Damon Stoudamire, Jason Terry, and Mike Bibby, all players who garnered success in the NBA as well.

Next in the line of point-guards is Philly-native Mustafa Shakur, a Jason Terry look-alike who was rated by most national publications as the top prep PG in the country last year. Shakur is a full-throttle McDonald's All-American who can create his shots, run a team, defend, and control the pace of a game.

"Mustafa is a natural leader," Olson recently said about his next point guard. "There is no question he is going to be in that role in the future. It's really difficult for a freshman to accept that role because they come in and they don't want to step on anybody's toes. They are new to the program. Mike Bibby was not the leader, Miles (Simon) was, but Mike developed into a good support leader. I believe that's what we have to hope for from Mustafa. Mustafa is fun to coach because everything he does is full speed. He just competes. Guys love to play with him because he goes hard all of the time."

Shakur can hope for some leadership help from junior Salim Stoudamire, the Pac-10's best shooter. A combo guard who has the skills to play the point, Salim might be the best guard in the Pac-10. In 2002-03, Stoudamire shot 47% on his field goals, 44% from the three-point arc, and 86% from the free-throw line. Though he prefers to shoot the ball from the arc, Stoudamire has the confidence to put the ball on the floor and draw fouls. There are few defenders in college basketball who can stay with his left-handed jab-step shot, and he backs his offense up with ferocious defensive skills. His defense is what won him the 2001-02 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year award.

Unfortunately, along with his big game, Stoudamire can display a selfish ego; this put him squarely in Lute Olson's doghouse on occasion last year. Salim is a good player who carries himself on the court like he knows he's good, and that has got him into trouble. He'll make the spectacular play and then have a mental lapse. A mature Stoudamire could well be a future Pac-10 Player of the Year. Right now though, Olson will have to deal with all the negative intangibles Salim brings to the court.

Says Coach Olson, "His single biggest problem is that he has to understand that if he is verbalizing with his appearance, there are four guys who are with him who have to believe that he is being very positive and consistent with what he is doing. He can play. I think I said a year ago that he’s the best shooter we have had since Steve Kerr and he’s gotten better. Now it is just a matter of moving without the ball and being patient for the shot to present itself."

Adding more fuel to the Stoudamire fire has been the play of sophomore Hassan Adams, a member of the 2002-03 Pac-10 All Freshman team. A gifted athlete with an NBA physique, Adams is a hard worker with an above-the-rim jumper. Hassan's play last year made it easier for Coach Olson to discipline Stoudamire. A strong and physical guard, Adams easily defends other shooters and will likely play against small forwards since he has the body to handle playing almost anywhere on the court. Adams is a solid defender. He will make poor decisions with the basketball at times, and he doesn't have great dribbling skills or patience, but he'll get some starts in 2004.

Sophomore Chris Rodgers will get some minutes behind Shakur at the Arizona point, probably coming off the bench at 10 minutes into each half. Rodgers is a point guard who played sparingly behind Jason Gardner last year, and though he lacked confidence, still played some big minutes against quality teams. In the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Rodgers played some very important stretches. This Oregon native rounds out the Wildcats back court rotation and should play about 8-10 minutes per game.

Collectively, this group knows how to score and defend. Passing the basketball is their most notable weakness, as each of the three (Adams, Stoudamire, and Rodgers) averaged less than 2 assists per game. With Walton and Gardner's passing skills now gone, the Wildcat faithful have to hope that Shakur is a dynamite-disher.

Filling the void left by Walton is another workout machine, sophomore forward Andre Iguodala. The second year player from Chicago had a workhorse first season for Lute, earning All Pac-10 Freshman team honors and showcasing his mid-range game and defensive skills. Along with his sophomore buddy Hassan, Andre could be the flashiest dunker in the Pac-10.

Iguodala primarily brings a "shut-down" defensive attitude to the floor, but can play in the paint on offense and knock down jumpers. Andre is a very physical player who is learning that he cannot be as aggressive as he might like in the whistle-friendly Pac-10 conference. That hurt his rhythm in 2002-03. Look for Iguodala to turn the jets up in 2004 as he gets more playing time with Walton gone. He will not replace Walton's assists but he should be a fine player with top-notch rebounding skills. I'll go out on a limb and predict that Andre will break at least one backboard this year. He can power jam.

Arizona's frontline is no longer the 'Tucson Skyline', but Channing Frye might be as good as any post player the Wildcats have ever had. The 6'11 junior from Phoenix has the long arms of a Bill Russell so opponents feel like are playing against someone much taller than 6'11. Frye is good on the boards and blocks many shots. Offensively, Frye can play facing up 10 to 12 feet away, or with his back to the basket, and he's got the best jump hook in the Pac-10. Easily one of the three best players in the West, Frye can dominate the paint. When he ends his career at Arizona he will probably be a first round NBA draft choice because of his size and jump hook.

Starting alongside Frye is fellow junior Isaiah Fox, a 6'9 power forward in a center's body. Fox, who hails from the same Santa Monica HS as Baron Davis (Crossroads High), is a slop-and-score guy who loves loose balls and physical play. He's had an interesting fall semester already with a shoplifting charge hitting his record, but he should be to handle the scrutiny that comes with that mistake. He probably won't average more than about 8 points and 8 rebounds per game.

Playing behind Fox and Frye is Kirk Walters, a freshman from Grand Rapids with an intriguing upside. Walters is athletic and confident, but his skills are still undeveloped. Due to the limited roster, Coach Olson will have to play Walters a lot this year, so his learning curve will be rushed. With just Fox and Frye ahead of him, Walters will be the first big man off the bench.

Arizona unquestionably lacks depth; that will be Olson's key issue.

"The single biggest problem that we have is that we only have eight players on scholarship," Olson said. "We have a lot of walk-ons filling the gaps. Last weekend we had our Red and Blue game and had two mangers suited to fill out the roster."

Arizona's success in the 2003-04 season will hinge on two crucial factors: can the eight scholarship players stay healthy. and will the team chemistry improve?

The pre-season Pac-10 media and coaches continue to believe that the 'Cats are the team to beat in the Pac-10; their 17-1 record last year is engraved in reporter's minds and memories. And admittedly, with Arizona's very talented starting five, it's easy to overlook other problems that exist: even though Mustafa Shakur might be the top freshman in the league, Channing Frye the top post player, and Salim Stoudamire once again the best shooter, this team lacks chemistry and a solid passing game. Arizona may have the best athletes in the conference, but this league can only be won with smart and savvy team play.

"We had great leadership the last two years with Luke Walton and Jason Gardner, we're still searching for that," Olson said.

I pick Arizona to finish third in the Pac-10 this year because the team is incomplete and lacks depth. Last year, Gardner carried Arizona when the pressure was on, especially during road games; this year the Wildcats won't find the leader they need in Salim Stoudamire, and that will lead to problems with distributing the ball and shot selection. Though Arizona will win the majority of their games on sheer talent, and will be an almost automatic qualifier for March Madness, 2003-4 will be a down year.

This edition of the 'Cats have claws, but they aren't as sharp as in years past. Lute Olson said that he wouldn't pick his guys to win the Pac-10 this year, so I won't.

©Copyright November 2003, GoCyberBears.com and The Insiders. All rights reserved.

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Head Coach: Lute Olson (21st Year)
Assistants: Jim Rosborough, Josh Pastner, Rodney Tention
Website: www.arizcats.com

2002-03 Pac-10 record: 17-1 (finished first; first seed); lost in the first round of the Pac-10 Tourney to UCLA.
2002-03 Overall record: 28-4; Ranked #1 for much of the season; Lost in the Elite 8 to Kansas, 78-75.
2002-03 Highlight: Arizona's season highlights were being ranked #1 in the nation throughout much of the year, and winning a huge non-conference game against Kansas in tough Phog Allen Fieldhouse. In the NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats won what may have been the best game of the year, a 96-95 double overtime thriller over Gonzaga.

Best Arizona quote:

"If you did not care who won, it was a great college basketball game. That was not a game for people who weren't willing to lay it out on the floor."

– Lute Olson on his Wildcats double OT win over Gonzaga in the 2nd Round of the NCAA Tournament. The game was one of the best contests ever played in the NCAA Tournament.

Key Losses:
Luke Walton 6'8 245 (10.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 5.1 apg, 38% 3-Ptr's) - departing senior; first team All Pac-10
Ricky Anderson 6'9 225 (10.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 37% 3-Ptr's) - departing senior
Jason Gardner 5'10 190 (14.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 4.9 apg, 1.8 spg) - departing senior; first team All Pac-10
Will Bynum 5'11 193 (7.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.5 apg) - transferred to Georgia Tech
Dennis Latimore 6'8 238 (3.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg) - transferred to Notre Dame

Recruiting Class:
PG - Mustafa Shakur 6'3 178 Fr - Friends Central HS, Philadelphia PA - McDonalds All-American
C - Kirk Walters 6'10 212 Fr - South Christian HS, Grand Rapids MI - All-State Michigan performer

Projected Starting Five (returning starters in Bold):
PG - Mustafa Shakur 6'3 178 Fr - Friends Central HS, Philadelphia PA - McDonalds All-American
SG - Salim Stoudamire 6'1 177 Jr (13.0 ppg, 1.8 apg, 44% 3-Ptr's) - Wooden Award Candidate
SF - Andre Igoudala 6'6 207 So (6.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.5 spg) - 2nd in steals for Cats in 2002-03
PF - Isaiah Fox 6'9 269 Jr (3.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg) - 2nd in FG% during 2002-03
C - Channing Frye 6'11 248 Jr (12.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.9 bpg) - honorable mention All Pac-10; Led AZ in blocks and FG%)

Key Returning Reserves:
PG - Chris Rodgers 6'4 200 So (2.5 ppg, 0.9 rpg, 1.0 apg) - avg. 8 mpg in 28 contests during 2002-03
SG - Hassan Adams 6'4 201 So (9.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.3 spg) - member of the All Pac-10 Freshman team

If there is one coach in the Pac-10 who can work with just a handful of players, the fiercely determined Lute Olson might be the man. Already a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, Olson's credentials are mind-boggling. Whether it's the 1997 National Championship, five Final Four appearances, 19 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances by Arizona, 10 Pac-10 Conference titles, or the nation's best winning percentage over the past 16 seasons, Olson is a legend.

"Lute's got a good program that's built on fundamentals and teaching," said former Cal Coach Pete Newell, his presenter at the Springfield, Massachusetts Hall of Fame on June 5th, 2002. "He strives for perfection and anytime you use that approach, you are usually successful."

Lute Olson has all the qualities of the great coaches. Perhaps one aspect that raises Lute Olson's coaching even above other legendary teachers is his constant adaptability. In just over 20 seasons in Tucson, Olson has displayed a continuing ability to make effective game-plan changes night after night. He is adept at dissecting a problem, communicating it to his players, and motivating them to adjust.

"Lute Olson is the finest technical basketball coach I ever have seen," said Ken Goe of the Oregonian. "His system is both disciplined and structured without being limiting. His players are have flawless fundamentals. They improve from one season to the next as much or more as any in college basketball. In his perfectly tailored coat and tie, he looks forbidding and intimidating. But one of the world's biggest hearts beats beneath the surface."

Olson's heart is both passionate and driven. Most programs would feel a certain satisfaction if they had been the nation's #1 team for most of a season, and earned a trip to the Elite 8 and an overall record of 28-4. But Lute Olson and his players felt that last year was a failure. When the Wildcats lost to Kansas in Anaheim, they fell a step short of the Final Four. And these days, that's the expectation every Arizona team has under this coach. The downside is, high expectations can result in failures and transfers.

One of the few negative aspects of Arizona basketball is the number of defections the program has suffered. Players have left early for Europe, the NBA, other universities, or just plain quit the game altogether.

In just the past five years the Wildcats lost Michael Wright, Richard Jefferson, and Loren Woods after their junior seasons; Gilbert Arenas and Mike Bibby departed after their sophomore years; and potential 2003 recruit Ndudi Ebi signed and left without ever playing a game at the McKale Center. And it seems to be getting worse.

Many college programs have to cope with the professional opportunities that exist for their players, so Arizona certainly isn't alone. However, the negative impact of these departures has been magnified in Arizona's case by their failure to recruit long-term role players who could provide team depth to the program.

Starting back in 1999 and continuing through last season, the mood in the Arizona program might even be described as a serious case of 'cabin fever' as we watch sophomores transferring out after the winter session. Some call them 'Snowbirds', the moniker given to folks who come to the Arizona desert for the winter - but leave soon after.

Four years ago, second-year player Travis Hanour returned west to San Diego State, and sophomore Ruben Douglass jetted south to New Mexico a year later, both citing playing time issues. Will Bynum went east to Georgia Tech last year in the middle of his second season, and sophomore Dennis Latimore quit the team and transferred north to Notre Dame shortly after Bynum. Andrew Zahn quit basketball after his two seasons in Tucson, and Chris Dunn failed out of Arizona without ever playing a game this summer. Even shooting guards Quynn Tebbs and Traves Wilson left after 1998.

Some say the problem can be traced to the recruiting process. Perhaps by awarding scholarships to players whose roles on the team are not well understood, the Wildcats have been left short-handed. Others disagree, but since it has been happening every other year in Tucson, the frequency suggests it's more than a one-time problem.

Olson commented recently about the sshorthanded squads he's had to deal with, primarily in 2000 and 2002:

"You face that on this level more so now because you never know how long guys are staying, or if they are coming at all. The Hall of Fame coach also stated, "I thought one year of doing that was enough, but obviously not."

At the current rate, Arizona might as well make universal keys for their dorm rooms.

Still, the players who stayed in Tucson last year are the ones worth talking about. The senior duo of Jason Gardner and Luke Walton contributed four solid years to Coach Olson's brilliant program, including the near-National Championship in 2001. Both Gardner and Walton had incredible confidence and earned numerous pre-season All-American honors. Ricky Anderson came on strong after the 2001 season, and the trio let the 'Cats to the Sweet Sixteen in each of the last two years. Few players have stayed committed to Arizona basketball in recent memory, so Walton, Anderson, and Gardner can now be mentioned in the same breath as Sean Elliot, Miles Simon, and Steve Kerr.

Arizona lost just four games in 2002-03; a 66-65 loss to LSU in Baton Rouge, an 82-77 loss to Stanford at home, a 96-89 loss to UCLA in the first round of the Pac-10 Tournament, and a 78-75 loss to Kansas in the Elite 8. Though all four losses stung, the Wildcats had an overall record of 4-4 against those same teams - including wins against three of the four on their home-courts during the regular season. They smashed the Bruins twice during the Pac-10 regular season, annihilated the Jayhawks by 17 in Lawrence, and beat Stanford in Palo Alto by three. If the 'Cats had another crack at LSU, there's little doubt they would have thumped them. Unfortunately, the only game most Arizona fans will remember will be the three-point loss to Kansas in Anaheim.

Replacing a point guard like Jason Gardner will not be easy; the former Mr. Indiana Basketball gave the Wildcats four years of timely baskets and great passes. In Arizona's great legacy of point guards, Gardner will rank with Damon Stoudamire, Jason Terry, and Mike Bibby, all players who garnered success in the NBA as well.

Next in the line of point-guards is Philly-native Mustafa Shakur, a Jason Terry look-alike who was rated by most national publications as the top prep PG in the country last year. Shakur is a full-throttle McDonald's All-American who can create his shots, run a team, defend, and control the pace of a game.

"Mustafa is a natural leader," Olson recently said about his next point guard. "There is no question he is going to be in that role in the future. It's really difficult for a freshman to accept that role because they come in and they don't want to step on anybody's toes. They are new to the program. Mike Bibby was not the leader, Miles (Simon) was, but Mike developed into a good support leader. I believe that's what we have to hope for from Mustafa. Mustafa is fun to coach because everything he does is full speed. He just competes. Guys love to play with him because he goes hard all of the time."

Shakur can hope for some leadership help from junior Salim Stoudamire, the Pac-10's best shooter. A combo guard who has the skills to play the point, Salim might be the best guard in the Pac-10. In 2002-03, Stoudamire shot 47% on his field goals, 44% from the three-point arc, and 86% from the free-throw line. Though he prefers to shoot the ball from the arc, Stoudamire has the confidence to put the ball on the floor and draw fouls. There are few defenders in college basketball who can stay with his left-handed jab-step shot, and he backs his offense up with ferocious defensive skills. His defense is what won him the 2001-02 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year award.

Unfortunately, along with his big game, Stoudamire can display a selfish ego; this put him squarely in Lute Olson's doghouse on occasion last year. Salim is a good player who carries himself on the court like he knows he's good, and that has got him into trouble. He'll make the spectacular play and then have a mental lapse. A mature Stoudamire could well be a future Pac-10 Player of the Year. Right now though, Olson will have to deal with all the negative intangibles Salim brings to the court.

Says Coach Olson, "His single biggest problem is that he has to understand that if he is verbalizing with his appearance, there are four guys who are with him who have to believe that he is being very positive and consistent with what he is doing. He can play. I think I said a year ago that he’s the best shooter we have had since Steve Kerr and he’s gotten better. Now it is just a matter of moving without the ball and being patient for the shot to present itself."

Adding more fuel to the Stoudamire fire has been the play of sophomore Hassan Adams, a member of the 2002-03 Pac-10 All Freshman team. A gifted athlete with an NBA physique, Adams is a hard worker with an above-the-rim jumper. Hassan's play last year made it easier for Coach Olson to discipline Stoudamire. A strong and physical guard, Adams easily defends other shooters and will likely play against small forwards since he has the body to handle playing almost anywhere on the court. Adams is a solid defender. He will make poor decisions with the basketball at times, and he doesn't have great dribbling skills or patience, but he'll get some starts in 2004.

Sophomore Chris Rodgers will get some minutes behind Shakur at the Arizona point, probably coming off the bench at 10 minutes into each half. Rodgers is a point guard who played sparingly behind Jason Gardner last year, and though he lacked confidence, still played some big minutes against quality teams. In the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Rodgers played some very important stretches. This Oregon native rounds out the Wildcats back court rotation and should play about 8-10 minutes per game.

Collectively, this group knows how to score and defend. Passing the basketball is their most notable weakness, as each of the three (Adams, Stoudamire, and Rodgers) averaged less than 2 assists per game. With Walton and Gardner's passing skills now gone, the Wildcat faithful have to hope that Shakur is a dynamite-disher.

Filling the void left by Walton is another workout machine, sophomore forward Andre Iguodala. The second year player from Chicago had a workhorse first season for Lute, earning All Pac-10 Freshman team honors and showcasing his mid-range game and defensive skills. Along with his sophomore buddy Hassan, Andre could be the flashiest dunker in the Pac-10.

Iguodala primarily brings a "shut-down" defensive attitude to the floor, but can play in the paint on offense and knock down jumpers. Andre is a very physical player who is learning that he cannot be as aggressive as he might like in the whistle-friendly Pac-10 conference. That hurt his rhythm in 2002-03. Look for Iguodala to turn the jets up in 2004 as he gets more playing time with Walton gone. He will not replace Walton's assists but he should be a fine player with top-notch rebounding skills. I'll go out on a limb and predict that Andre will break at least one backboard this year. He can power jam.

Arizona's frontline is no longer the 'Tucson Skyline', but Channing Frye might be as good as any post player the Wildcats have ever had. The 6'11 junior from Phoenix has the long arms of a Bill Russell so opponents feel like are playing against someone much taller than 6'11. Frye is good on the boards and blocks many shots. Offensively, Frye can play facing up 10 to 12 feet away, or with his back to the basket, and he's got the best jump hook in the Pac-10. Easily one of the three best players in the West, Frye can dominate the paint. When he ends his career at Arizona he will probably be a first round NBA draft choice because of his size and jump hook.

Starting alongside Frye is fellow junior Isaiah Fox, a 6'9 power forward in a center's body. Fox, who hails from the same Santa Monica HS as Baron Davis (Crossroads High), is a slop-and-score guy who loves loose balls and physical play. He's had an interesting fall semester already with a shoplifting charge hitting his record, but he should be to handle the scrutiny that comes with that mistake. He probably won't average more than about 8 points and 8 rebounds per game.

Playing behind Fox and Frye is Kirk Walters, a freshman from Grand Rapids with an intriguing upside. Walters is athletic and confident, but his skills are still undeveloped. Due to the limited roster, Coach Olson will have to play Walters a lot this year, so his learning curve will be rushed. With just Fox and Frye ahead of him, Walters will be the first big man off the bench.

Arizona unquestionably lacks depth; that will be Olson's key issue.

"The single biggest problem that we have is that we only have eight players on scholarship," Olson said. "We have a lot of walk-ons filling the gaps. Last weekend we had our Red and Blue game and had two mangers suited to fill out the roster."

Arizona's success in the 2003-04 season will hinge on two crucial factors: can the eight scholarship players stay healthy. and will the team chemistry improve?

The pre-season Pac-10 media and coaches continue to believe that the 'Cats are the team to beat in the Pac-10; their 17-1 record last year is engraved in reporter's minds and memories. And admittedly, with Arizona's very talented starting five, it's easy to overlook other problems that exist: even though Mustafa Shakur might be the top freshman in the league, Channing Frye the top post player, and Salim Stoudamire once again the best shooter, this team lacks chemistry and a solid passing game. Arizona may have the best athletes in the conference, but this league can only be won with smart and savvy team play.

"We had great leadership the last two years with Luke Walton and Jason Gardner, we're still searching for that," Olson said.

I pick Arizona to finish third in the Pac-10 this year because the team is incomplete and lacks depth. Last year, Gardner carried Arizona when the pressure was on, especially during road games; this year the Wildcats won't find the leader they need in Salim Stoudamire, and that will lead to problems with distributing the ball and shot selection. Though Arizona will win the majority of their games on sheer talent, and will be an almost automatic qualifier for March Madness, 2003-4 will be a down year.

This edition of the 'Cats have claws, but they aren't as sharp as in years past. Lute Olson said that he wouldn't pick his guys to win the Pac-10 this year, so I won't.

©Copyright November 2003, GoCyberBears.com and The Insiders. All rights reserved.

============

CyberBear Staff Writers regularly visit the CyberBears Insider board, and are available to discuss questions you may have about this article or about Cal Athletics.

= GreyBear, Webmaster

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