From sixth man to 'the man'
Wildcat File Photo
Arizona Daily Wildcat
At the beginning of this basketball season questions were swirling around the Arizona men's basketball team.
Lute Olson was left with only one starter returning and two seniors on the team. A.J. Bramlett was a name that most of America had heard of because of the 1997 NCAA Tournament, but Jason Terry was known only in the Pacific 10 Conference.
He was the sixth man, the Wildcats spark plug, the man with the high socks and the great defense. But could he be a leader? Could he hit the big shot in the clutch situations? Could he keep Arizona basketball at a respectable level? And most of all, could he and Bramlett keep six newcomers in line everyday in practice?
These were all good questions at the beginning of the year.
Now, as the Wildcats are ranked No. 7 in the most recent Associated Press poll at 20-4 with a chance to retain the title as the best in the Pac-10, these questions are irrelevant.
Jason Terry leads the league in scoring, assists and steals. He has played 911 minutes in just 24 games, or maybe a better stat would be he has just missed 49 minutes in 24 games. He has also only committed 33 personal fouls on the season.
But, perhaps the most important thing that he has done for this Arizona team is displayed his clutch shooting in crunch time when the game is on the line.
With five freshman in uniform and a couple of big guys who can only play in the paint, Olson won't trust anyone else on the team to have the ball in their hands when the game is on the line. And, JT wants the ball.
He has an uncanny ability to come through - hit a big three to stop the bleeding, pick off a pass when the Wildcats need a steal and get the McKale crowd into the game with his rendition of the dirty bird.
So, he is the Pac-10 Player of the Year without a doubt, but how about National Player of the Year?
One could argue for Duke's Elton Brand, UConn's Richard Hamilton, Michigan State's Mateen Cleeves, Minnesota's Quincy Lewis, Utah's Andre Miller or Miami of Ohio's Wally Szczerbiak.
The difference between JT and the rest of these basketball players is that no one means more to their team than Terry does to the Wildcats.
Brand is averaging 17.6 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. Good stats, but he also has William Avery, Chris Burgess, Corey Maggette, Chris Carawell, Trajon Langdon and Shane Battier, all of whom average 9.5 points or better for the Blue Devils.
Duke might not be 27-1 without Brand, but they would still be in the top-10.Hamilton pours in 20.9 points per game and pulls down 4.7 boards, but again, with Khalid El-Amin, Kevin Freeman and Ricky Moore, the Huskies have experience and depth that the Wildcats don't have.
Lewis is averaging 24.5 points every time out and 5.8 rebounds, but what have the Golden Gophers done this season? They are a bubble team that has a respectable 6-7 record in the Big 10 and 15-8 record overall.
Szczerbiak has put up great numbers for Miami, but we have to be realistic here. He plays in the Mid-American Conference. So, he's been put on the good player, but not a chance list.
As for Cleeves, who might not even win the Big 10 Player of the Year and Miller, JT probably wouldn't even let those guys shine his shoes.
The list will probably be dwindled down to Terry, Brand and Hamilton come voting time, and if the league's leader in points (22.4), assists (5.6), steals (56), minutes (38.0) and crunch-time points doesn't get noticed by the East Coast voters, than a great injustice will have occurred.
JT should be Pac-10 Player of the Year without question, and once the conference season is over he should have the Wooden Award as National Player of the Year wrapped up as well.