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Men's Hoops: Commentary

Christopher Wuensch
Staff Writer
By Christopher Wuensch
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, February 24, 2004
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Learning a trade at Arizona

Harry Joiser is a psychology senior at the UA. His friends and colleagues know him as "Jimmy." One day, he'll be patrolling the highways of Arizona as one of the Grand Canyon State's finest.

Mustafa Shakur is a freshman point guard at the UA. His teammates call him "Lute Olson's golden boy." One day, he'll be patrolling the hardwood of the NBA.

The two have something in common. They both came to the UA for one reason: to jump-start their futures.

One might argue that Joiser's real training will come in the police academy. Others might say Shakur's vocation will come by way of the Continental Basketball Association or the National Developmental Basketball Association.

Joiser and Shakur represent two of the 33,000 students at the UA taking the first steps (some of them crossover dribbles) of the rest of their lives. While Joiser is in the twilight of his undergraduate career and will be walking in May, Shakur is in the fledgling stages of academia.

In the end, the results will be the same: Arizona will serve as a springboard for their lives.

Think of it this way: In the NCAA, there are 327 Division I teams. At roughly 15 players per team, that makes 4,905 roundballers. In December's UA graduating class alone, there was an estimated total of 2,400 grads.

You can't spell numbers without "numb," so here's another tidbit. Take the December graduates of the UA journalism department all 35 of them. Considering that not all 327 schools have journalism departments the size of Arizona's (if they have one at all), the number of budding journalists flooding the job market in May or December will probably be roughly the same as the number of NBA hopefuls in the college ranks.

Granted, the number of players that make it to the NBA is miniscule in comparison. But the same can be said for the journalists. How many of them will make it straight to The New York Times, Washington Post or other top-flight newspapers? Just a few, if any.

Basketball might as well be made a major or minor at the UA and abroad.

The truth of the matter is that many universities across the country are merely trade schools specializing in basketball, football or another sport. In the same fashion as Harvard Law is a lawyer factory and Embry-Riddle is an aeronautical engineer factory, Arizona is a basketball player factory.

It's time to face the facts: Players don't go to top basketball programs for the academics. They look for the marquee they can find at Marquette, the prominence found in Providence. The top players know where to get an "A," and it's on the Tucson mountain that bears the letter grade's name.

What do Miles Simon and Shaquille O'Neal have in common? They both went back and worked on their degrees. Those who finish or go back and get their degrees should be applauded. Those who don't shouldn't be scolded.

Case in point: Christian Drejer of Florida, who recently left midway through the college season to play in Europe.

With his NBA stock plummeting, Drejer bolted the Gators swapping the swamp for the sidewalk cafes and beaches of Barcelona. In doing so, the 6-foot-9 Denmark native will earn up to a million dollars (or pesetas) over the next year. Drejer's exodus proves he never had any intention of getting an education while playing for Billy Donovan at Florida.

Basketball is a global game now you can thank the original USA Olympic "Dream Team" for that. As a result, there are jobs out there for the Michael Wrights, Rick Andersons and Jason Gardners of the world. Those three can thank Arizona for shaping them.

Graduation percentages should take a lesson from Tom Hanks and be cast away. If a player wants to graduate and get a degree, he is only empowering himself. Whether he invests his money wisely or blows it on Escalades, drugs and white tigers is a different issue.

One argument is that having a degree paves a future for these players when basketball isn't an option anymore.

Odds are, Shakur will never be a doctor. That's not to say he is a dumb jock talk with him for five minutes, and you realize Shakur isn't a petty street thug like his late namesake. He's smart and articulate.

But when his basketball career is done, in all likelihood, he won't need that degree to help support himself. That is, unless he gets pulled over for speeding by Joiser.

Christopher Wuensch is a journalism senior. He can be reached at

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