Olson optimistic as men's hoops opens practice
Instead of coming out with all the hoopla that surrounds Midnight Madness, the UA men's basketball team quietly began the 1999-2000 season with an early morning practice and an afternoon scrimmage on Saturday.
That didn't mean that there wasn't any fireworks or intensity on the court, where the competition within the team is already hot as the players gave maximum effort for the first official day of practice.
Despite losing All-American point guard Jason Terry and center A.J. Bramlett from last year's 22-7 team, head coach Lute Olson was upbeat after the first day of practice.
"I was pleased with the first day, we really had a good effort and it's obvious that the team chemistry is going to be good, everybody is very cooperative," Olson said. "The key thing with it is I want to see the effort, I want to see the guys who have the really good quickness that run the court well, things like that."
Junior center Loren Woods, who sat out last year after transferring from Wake Forest, should be a major impact player after going head-to-head with Bramlett every day last year. Along with sophomore forward Michael Wright, Arizona's frontcourt has already been called one of the nation's best.
Sophomore swing forward Richard Jefferson returns after a strong freshman year, when he averaged 11.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. Jefferson, known as one of the best leapers in the Pacific 10 Conference, showed some flash with thundering dunks as well as good shooting range during Saturday's practice.
Redshirt freshman Luke Walton, who sat out last year after breaking his ankle early last season, sophomore Rick Anderson, junior Justin Wessel and freshman Robertas Javtokas add depth and versatility to the frontcourt.
The real battle during the preseason will be at guard, where the two starting positions are up for grabs.
Sophomore Ruben Douglas, who steadily improved over the course of last season with better shot selection and confidence, will have to hold off a trio of newcomers if he hopes to keep his starting position.
Freshman Jason Gardner, a McDonald's All-American from Indianapolis, possesses tremendous quickness and will help ease the loss of Terry at point guard. Gilbert Arenas, a freshman guard from North Hollywood, Calif., was one of the best-kept secrets in the country last year, as most colleges passed him up because he was only a junior in high school last year.
Lamont Frazier also joins the backcourt after playing two years at Lon Morris Junior College in Jacksonville, Texas, adding to the wealth of young talent Arizona has at guard.
Traves Wilson transferred to Illinois State over the summer.
"The problem with the depth a year ago was that we didn't have enough people in practice who could really challenge somebody else," Olson said. "As I watched out here today. every position has somebody that's going to push them and make them better every time they come out to the practice court."