By Arlie Rahn
Arizona Daily Wildcat October 15, 1996
With one of the top recruiting classes in the nation, the 1996 men's basketball team is loaded with expectations. However, having such a young team - five freshman and no seniors - also raises the question of consistency.
"We will be going with a team that does not have the experience we've had in the past," UA head coach Lute Olson said at the team's media day yesterday. "But with this team's high level of quickness, we plan to go back to a lot of the things we ran in our Final Four season (in 1994)."
The comparisons to top teams of the past does not end there. Arizona's lack of bulk on the inside reflects the Wildcats' 1989 team, which went to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
"We don't have a lot of beef, but the same could be said for Sean Elliott's senior year, when we had no starter over 215 (pounds)," UA assistant coach Jesse Evans said. "But we don't have quite the experience that team had."
Arizona returns five players, including juniors Miles Simon (6-foot-5, 195 pounds) and Michael Dickerson (6-5, 190), and sophomores A.J. Bramlett (6-11, 222), Donnell Harris (6-11, 210) and Jason Terry (6-2, 188). Simon was the Wildcats' leading scorer last season at 13.2 points per game. Dickerson averaged only 11.9 points during the season but was the top scorer for the Wildcats during their run in the NCAA Tournament last march, at 18.7 points per game.
"Miles was looked to as the leader of our younger group last season," Olson said. "Michael is not quite as outspoken and usually leads by example."
"Last season I learned from Reggie (Geary) that you sometimes need to do things out of the ordinary to make your point," Simon said. "I think the guys will listen to me since I have been in a lot of big situations in my first two years."
Freshmen Mike Bibby (6-1, 180) and Eugene Edgerson (6-6, 210), and junior college transfer Bennett Davison (6-8, 208) lead the newcomers.
Bibby, from Shadow Mountain High School in Phoenix, was one of the country's top recruits, rated by Bob Gibbons' Report as the best high school point guard in the nation. He was Blue Chip Illustrated's No. 2 player at the 1995 Nike summer camp. In high school, he averaged 34.3 points, eight assists, six rebounds and four steals per game.
"We are not worried about Mike's season," Olson said. "We know he will have an outstanding year. He knows how to play and doesn't have an uncontrollable ego."
"The thing about Bibby is that he can play, but you won't even notice him because he's so effortless and smooth," Evans said. "He won't go through his legs 20 times to reach the basket, but he reads the floor and does whatever the defense makes him do. By the way he reacts, he is the prototypical basketball player."
Edgerson and Davison are expected to help fill the void left by Ben Davis, now on the Phoenix Suns. Edgerson, of Saint Augustine High School in New Orleans, was the recipient of the New Orleans Times-Picayune Large School's Player of the Year. He averaged 18 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks per game. Davison was Basketball Weekly's 1996 National Junior College Player of the Year. He performed at West Valley Junior College in Sebastopol, Calif., where he led the entire California junior college ranks in rebounding. He averaged 19 points and 15 rebounds a game.
"According to the players, Davison has been one of the most consistent guys on the glass in pick-up games," Olson said. "He's a good, face-up shooter who can run the court."
One area that could possibly hurt the confidence of the Wildcats is a non-conference schedule that includes five nationally ranked opponents.
"This schedule is more suited for an experienced ballclub," Olson said. "But our stance has always been to play a tough schedule, no exceptions."
Some of the players, however, feel the schedule might help prepare them for the tough Pac-10 season.
"We have a lot of big games in the beginning of the season and that could help us in the long run," Simon said. "It also could be a negative with such a young team, but I think we will learn a lot in those games."
One dent in Arizona's impressive suit of armor is the production of its returning big men. With two centers that averaged a little more than two points and two rebounds a game, there are many questions regarding Arizona's ability to contribute from that position.
"Some teams are not going to look at us in the beginning of the season," Bramlett said. "But Donnell and I have worked pretty hard in the off-season, but we need to improve on our consistency."
"Other teams should overlook those guys (Harris and Bramlett)," Evans said. "They have to go out and prove themselves before they get any credit."
Other players on Arizona's roster are freshmen Ortege Jenkins (6-2, 218), Josh Pastner (6-0, 170), Quinn Tebbs (6-1, 185) and Justin Wessel (6-8, 200). Senior Jason Lee (6-4, 205) transferred from Allegheny College and will be eligible to play next semester.