By Jeff Lund
The Arizona bench holds hands in the final seconds of their 68-60 victory against Wyoming at the NCAA west regional tournament in Albuquerque Saturday. The second-string, or scout, team contributed to and is enjoying the trip to the Sweet 16 despite a dearth of playing time.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday Mar. 21, 2002
SAN JOSE, Calif. - It's been said that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, an analogy that applies to basketball. Behind every All-American or team MVP, there is a scout player pushing to make that player - and the team - better.
Sophomore UA guard Jason Ranne said trading hard work in practice for a plane ticket and a seat on the end of the bench of a Sweet 16 team is no problem for him.
"It's our job," Ranne said. "It's always enjoyable to go to all of these places. Traveling with this bunch of guys is a lot of fun."
Though the playing time is scarce and time spent in front of a TV camera or the media is even more rare, junior Luke Walton said the team would not be where it is without the scout team.
"They do a great job of keeping practice intense," Walton said. "They are great players and could be playing somewhere else. They don't get nearly the recognition they deserve."
While keeping the practices high energy is one part of the job, making sure the teams are loose is another.
"They are great," Walton said smiling. "They are out there talking trash, and some days, they beat us."
Freshman Andrew Zahn says being on the scout team is a tough job and, because playing time is not usually in the equation, giving 100 percent is the only option.
"We take what we do seriously," Zahn said. "We try to get them mentally prepared. We know we have nothing to lose. If they give us an inch, we are going to take it."
Well, most of the time.
Zahn said he thinks he knows the scout team's key to beating the starters.
"We give them a run for their money," Zahn said. "Usually when I don't shoot, that's when we win."
What else would you expect from such a fun-loving bunch?
Though the scout wins have not been frequent, the reserves don't seem to mind.
But when the starters interfere with interview time for the scouts, that is another story.
"Come on, man, can I do my interview?" Ranne said as freshman Dennis Latimore shot a few choice comments in his direction. "You know I give one of these about every six months and you got to ruin it, Dennis. Superstar."
Zahn said at times the trash-talking isn't the worst part of being on the scout team.
Learning not only the team's plays but also the opposition's plays and mannerisms can lead to some interesting situations for the scout team.
"For some reason, they stuck me as a 3-point shooter at the beginning of the year," Zahn said. "So that's kind of cool. I have also been (Oklahoma forward) Aaron McGhee, so I had to be left-handed."
Trash-talking aside, the relationship between the scout team and the starters is almost perfectly in balance. There is no big-leaguing, no one is exempt from being victimized by trash talking, even as the team goes deeper into the tournament.
As long as the scout players continues to be themselves - and opposing players - in practice, their ticket will be punched.