Arizona seniors looking to go out in style
After four years that included an NCAA Championship and appearances in the Elite Eight and Sweet 16, Jason Terry, A.J. Bramlett and Jason Stewart will play their last games at McKale Center tomorrow when the Wildcats take on the UCLA Bruins.
While their careers have taken different paths, the one thing that ties them together is that from the beginning, they've all been team-first players.
Terry, who originally committed to play for his hometown school of Washington, came to Arizona as somewhat of an anomaly, not known as a great point guard or shooter.
But as time passed, Terry became known as a defensive specialist and the Wildcats' spark plug last year as the first man off head coach Lute Olson's bench.
"He was not a great shooter or a great scorer," Olson said. "There's no way in the world I would have said coming in (this season) that he would average 20 points a game."
But as Terry developed, he became an increasingly important part of the Wildcats' rotation, often playing in clutch situations at the end of games despite not starting.
"This is the first year he's been a starter, but he has been a finisher for us for a number of years," Olson said. "One thing that was obvious about Jason (in high school) was that he was a big-time winner and he knew what he had to do to make his team successful."
After only averaging 8.3 points per game through his first three seasons, Terry has exploded this year offensively to lead the Pacific 10 Conference in scoring with over 22 points per game.
Much of the progress has come as Terry improved his outside shot, something Olson said would make Terry a more attractive prospect for the NBA Draft.
"He knows his ability to shoot from the outside has a whole lot to do with where he ends up in the draft," Olson said. "He's made himself into an NBA lottery prospect."
Terry, who was named a finalist for the John R. Wooden Award and Sports Illustrated's player of the year, said beating UCLA would be a perfect end to his home-court career.
"It's a going-out party for me and A.J.," Terry said. "We'll see what happens."
Like Terry, Bramlett came to Tucson without many expectations but progressed to the point where he was named yesterday to the second-team Division I All-District team by the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
Bramlett has racked up 25 career double-doubles, but more importantly has developed into one of the top defensive centers in the country.
"I've never seen anybody improve as much from the beginning of the year to the end of the year," Olson said of Bramlett's progress during his sophomore year. "But that hasn't stopped. The one thing I still don't think he gets the credit he is due is for the incredible job he does on defense."
This year alone, Bramlett has shut down Tim Young and Todd MacCulloch twice and held Southern Cal center Brian Scalabrine scoreless last night. While Stewart isn't a big part of the Wildcats on the floor, his spiritual leadership, including pre- and post-game prayers, has been a major part of the team's success, junior forward Eugene Edgerson said.
"Everybody needs some kind of spiritual guidance and that's Jason Stewart," Edgerson said of the former practice player for the women's basketball team. "Every game he says a prayer and it gets you thinking, it gets you pumped up for the game."
Edgerson said he and the rest of the team would be extra hyped for tomorrow's game because they want to send the seniors off on a high note.
"(UCLA) - that's for JT and A.J.," freshman forward Michael Wright said. "I know they don't want to lose on senior night."