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Got heart?


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Arizona Daily Wildcat

Brett Erickson

By Brett Erickson
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
February 22, 2000
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Here's a shocker - Loren Woods, Michael Wright, Richard Jefferson, Jason Gardner and Gilbert Arenas are all going to play in the NBA within the next few years.

Want another one? Justin Wessel won't.

But you couldn't tell that by the way the junior forward plays.

He is by far the most inspiring player to watch at UA home games. He hustles for every loose ball, mixes it up with the other team's bruisers, and is asked to play a number of different positions, including center on Saturday against UCLA.

In short, Wessel is the classic example of a blue-collar worker.

Many of the players Wessel matches up against - including 6-foot-11, 248-pound UCLA center Dan Gadzuric - tower above the one-time Mr. Basketball in Iowa.

Wessel probably doesn't have the size to play in the NBA or be a dominating force in the NCAA for that matter. He lacks the speed and touch necessary for the small forward position but is a bit small to play power forward.

Blah, blah, blah.

College basketball's purpose isn't to serve as a springboard for the NBA, although some view it as exactly that. Mike Bibby come to mind?

Wessel understands what his role is on a team loaded with stars. He's not Gardner's first option coming down the court, nor will he be the first off the bench once Jefferson returns to the starting line-up.

He is the scrapper, the guy who will introduce his nose to an opponent's elbow if it will help the Wildcats win.

Wessel has grown accustomed to this role during his three years at Arizona, which is all the more remarkable considering what he accomplished during his time at Prairie High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

There, he averaged 27.5 points and pulled down almost 10 rebounds as a senior.

Even with these high school accolades, Wessel's college career has surpassed what he did in Iowa.

True, he entered the season averaging only 2.2 points per game and has averaged 2.7 this year in 26 games. His career high in points is 15 against Wyoming on Dec. 5, 1998.

"The game's about heart, about hustle, playing your tail off on every possession," UA head coach Lute Olson said after the team's 80-75 lackluster win against Washington State.

Not surprisingly, Wessel was one of the few players praised by Olson after the game for playing with intensity from buzzer-to-buzzer.

On Saturday, Wessel had another one of those games. He was only one-for-seven from the field - although several of those shots rimmed out of the basket.

But he drew foul after foul, and more importantly, hit all 10 of the free throws he attempted. His work around the basket also put Gadzuric in foul trouble.

Wessel had his usual game - consistently doing the small things without wanting the glory.

Imagine that.

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