2002-03 Pac-10 Preview #1 - Arizona Wildcats

<p class=txt>I truly do not believe that Lute Olson has left much doubt that he's one of the elite coaches to ever walk the NCAA hardcourt sidelines. He's easily the most accomplished current coach in the Pac-10, and ever since he won the 1997 NCAA Title, and finished as the runner-up in 2001, he's finally accrued national recognition.

He's as much a legend as John Wooden, Pete Newell, and Ralph Miller…and that's unquestionable. Olson defines Arizona basketball just as John Wooden defines UCLA Basketball. And to me, that's the best type of compliment I think anyone can ever give an NCAA Coach - that they define a Program. 

There's simply no rest in Tucson, as this program is right back to having the same expectations they had two years ago of a National Title. In 2001, the Wildcats came into that year with many #1 National Pre-Season rankings…and despite a mediocre season filled with the loss of Coach Olson's wife, and back ailments from star center Loren Woods…Arizona ended up in the National Title game against Duke right where everyone predicted. After that season, they lost four of their five starters to either graduation, or early to the NBA. In fact, the 5th starter…point guard Jason Gardner…almost headed there himself. However Gardner returned last year, and simply had a remarkable year...earning his 3rd Straight All-American honor. Luke Walton was also a 1st Team All-American selectee, and together…they were instrumental in leading a very young Wildcat team to 24-10 Record, plus a birth in the Sweet 16…and a Pac-10 Tournament Title. 

There was very little summer news to report around Tucson, since no players who played any significant minutes left the program except for one transfer, Andrew Zahn. The only other departure was really that of Asst Coach Jay John, who in another compliment to Coach Olson…was named the Head Man in Corvallis at Pac-10 Opponent, Oregon State. Another story involving Oregon High School State Player of the Year Chris Rodgers came down when the NCAA ruled he was eligible for play this season. In other words, good news…followed by more good news, and then…even more good news. And wait till you get a load of their recruiting class! Josh Pastner and Coach Olson really did the job this past year.

Here's the Roster for the impending 2002-03 Arizona Wildcats;

Projected Starting Lineup: (Returning Starters in Bold)
PG- Jason Gardner, 5'10 185 Sr. (20.4 ppg, rpg, 4.7 apg) 
SG- Salim Stoudamire, 6'1 180 So. (13.0 ppg,) 
SF- Luke Walton, 6'8 245 Sr. (16.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 6.2 apg) 
F- Ricky Anderson, 6'9 230 Sr. (13.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.2 apg) 
C- Channing Frye, 6'11 235 So. (9.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 0.1 apg) 

Key Returning Reserves: 
Will Bynum, 5'10 185 So. (6.1 ppg, )
Isaiah Fox, 6'9 265 So. (4.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg) 
Dennis Latimore, 6'8 255 So. (3.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.3 apg) 

Recruiting Class;
Andre Iguolada, 6'7 215 Fr. (Lanphier HS, Springfield IL)
Hassan Adams, 6'4 205 Fr. (Wastchester HS, Los Angeles CA) 
Chris Dunn, 6'7 180 Fr. (Hobbs HS, Hobbs NM)
Chris Rodgers, 6'4 190 Fr. (Woodrow Wilson HS, Portland OR)

This is obviously one of the most stacked teams in the Pac-10 Conference in recent memory, and they do compare very well with the 2000-01 Arizona Wildcats. In the backcourt, Lute Olson again has an incredible Point Guard at his disposal…as well as the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year in 2001 who can play the 1 or 2 spot. Jason Gardner & Salim Stoudamire work together about as well as Miles Simon & Mike Bibby did back in '97 for the `Cats, with Gardner being more offensively spectacular and Stoudamire one of the top defensive stoppers in the West. There really isn't a shot that Gardner can't create, and he's loaded with some solid moves. He's always carried himself with a great attitude, but it seems he's become more of a leader after stepping out of the NBA draft picture in 2000. Stoudamire, a 1st cousin to former Wildcat Damon Stoudamire, is one of my favorite players to watch. Salim might be the best defensive player I have seen in some time, and he's a deadly outside shooter at 44% from the trifecta, and 90% from the free-throw line. What more could a coach want? I could write a full-page on how impressive a player Stoudamire is. And how about some depth on the bench for these two? Okay, lets bring in the California State High School Player of the Year, Hassan Adams, plus the Oregon High School State Player of the Year in aforementioned Chris Rodgers. Adams is gifted both offensively and defensively, and plays the 2-guard spot extremely well. Rodgers is a true point with size, a combo very hard to find…but he can play the 2 spot as well. He's been labeled as a scorer, but he likely scored more in HS since that responsibility fell squarely on his shoulders. Will Bynum again will add a sparkplug effect on the team.

At the 3-spot, Luke Walton mans this position better than just about anyone in the nation. He's a definitive three, who can score, rebound, and pass as good as anyone to ever don the Arizona uniform. His passing skills are often talked about, but he's a very skilled tough scoring and rebounding option for Coach Olson too. Walton was a 1st team All-American a year ago, and he's one of the top 5 favorites for the Wooden Award in 2002-03. If Walton ever takes a breather, highly touted freshman Chris Dunn and Andre Iguodala might be able to show off their considerable talents. Dunn has been touted as the 'most athletic youngster to ever enter the Arizona program', and that's something very hard for me to believe with guys like Elliot and Jefferson having played in Tucson. Nonetheless, he averaged well over a double-double per game in HS last year, and was narrowly edged out of the High School State Player of the Year award by Serge Angoungou (who will be playing in Tempe for ASU this year). Dunn's team did win the New Mexico HS Championship however, his 4th in his four year HS career. He also shot over 52% from behind the three point line, which is a staggering number. Iguodala was spoke of as the nation's top overall sleeper, though I have recently seen him numbered in the top 5 of incoming freshman. That takes him out of the sleeper competition in my book. Andre is a combo-forward, who thrives on defense…and mixes in a polished offensive game. National Writers have raved about his intensity, and this summer he wowed ESPN's Andy Katz. With Dunn rumored to redshirt, Iguodala might see minutes at PF and SF…though he'll only be pressed into bigtime minutes if an injur

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