Commentary: 1997 vs. 2004: Eight is enough

By James Kelley
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, November 21, 2003

Call me Ishmael. After all, I did say in this year's football preview that you should go to UA football games because every home game is a chance to storm the field (see the Washington game).

But I think this year's basketball team can make a serious run - despite being as dangerously thin and short as a refugee from, you know, one of those loser countries.

I may be only a student (so I'm barred from home games during the school year), but after Lute pointed out that the very athletic 2003-04 team was very much like the 1996-97 national championship team, I asked assistant coach Josh Pastner about the two team's similarities, and he noticed them as well. He should know - after all, he was on that team.

From losing a McDonald's All-American forward to having a freshman point guard, there are many similarities between these two squads. The 2004 Wildcats even play in the Hall of Fame Classic (in 1996, the UA beat North Carolina, 83-72). They call it the Prudential Classic or some garbage like that, but if there is one place that over-commercialization should not be, it is the Hall.

Now we just have to see if this team is capable of mounting an amazing run of beating three No. 1 seeds in the tourney - or at least win the right six in a row.

Point guard: Mustafa Shakur vs. Mike Bibby
It's hard to pick between two true freshmen since I have seen so little of both and Shakur played the two-guard in the McDonald's All-American game. How crappy was that coach to not even play the nation's best point guard at his position? Anyway, Bibby stepped in and only led the UA to the national title, so I have to give him the nod even though both men were about as highly touted, and Shakur looks like he could be better. From what I hear about "3Pac," he is Bibby reborn, only with a better attitude. Advantage: '97

Shooting guard: Salim Stoudamire vs. Miles Simon
"Simon says championship" was probably the most enduring memory to UA fans, but Salim's better. Simon missed the first 11 games of the championship season, and while he recovered well, Salim has been starting since day one and will emerge as a national star this year. Advantage: '04

Small forward: Hassan Adams vs. Michael Dickerson
When Ndudi Ebi skipped college and former Baylor star Lawrence Roberts chose Mississippi State over the UA, I was one of the few who was excited because of the prospect of Hassan and Iggy starting together, which is scary. While Adams is currently on the bench for now, I think he will eventually force his way into the starting lineup at the 3-spot. Still, the 1997 team's top offensive weapon, Dickerson, edges Adams - at least for now. Advantage: '97

Power forward: Andre Iguodala vs. Bennett Davison
Everyone seems to agree that Iguodala's the star of stars on this year's team, but few remember how important Davison was. Davison was one of the most important cogs in the 1997 machine, helping offset its lack of size. Iguodala, though, is the easy pick in this one. Advantage: '04

Center: Channing Frye vs. A.J. Bramlett
A.J. was a bad ass and very underrated; after all, he broke a backboard in 1997. That's cooler than those Luke Walton and 'Melo commercials, but Frye is one of the best players in the land. Advantage: '04

Backup big men: Fox/Walters vs. Harris/ Edgerson
This one's easier than stealing candy from the U-Mart for the 2004 team. Gene and Harris were very good, but Fox is ready for a big year and Walters will be a star.

When Walters signed last year, it looked like the Caucasian sensation was simply the hoops team's version of Affirmative Action, but he jumped into the top 20 among high school centers with a stellar senior season - and that's before Lute and Pastner got to him. Advantage: '04

Bench combo guard: Chris Rodgers vs. Jason Terry
Terry in a laugher, at least right now. Mr. Rodgers is known for orgasmic defense that reenergizes the team and crowd, but the ball hawk Terry had a friendly competition with Bibby for most steals. The knock so far on Rodgers has been that he dribbles too much and couldn't hit the broad side of a barn.

Hopefully for UA fans, Rodgers worked on his jumper in the Student Recreation Center, because he will be key. Still, he is far behind Terry, who won National Player of the Year a couple years later. Advantage: '97

McDonald's All-American lost: Ebi vs. Stephen Jackson
I'm not saying that Ebi's decision was as bad as when Jay-son Williams drove past the Benz dealership to the Harley or rice rocket dealership, but when Dick Vitale and Andy Katz write columns directly to you, it might make financial sense to listen.

Ebi is supposed to be better, but that is assuming that the 100-pound "power" forward doesn't accidentally get broken in half by Kevin Garnett in practice. I pick Jackson as the bigger loss because he made it and actually wanted to go the UA. Advantage: '04

Academic Casualty: Chris Dunn vs. Simon
Assuming Chris Dunn will be back (I do, because I see him all around campus and even on the field after the UW football game), he will fit in nicely. After the Matrix reloads and plays a few years, he should be a better player than Simon, but since Simon would go from missing the first 11 games to Final Four Most Outstanding Player, I have to say Simon's return was bigger than Dunn's would be. Advantage: '97

It takes a heck of a group to beat the 1997 squad, which had a future prominent coach (Pastner), a future star UA QB (Ortege Jenkins) and John Ash, who went to my high school - but the 2004 team does.

With Lute's grandson, Matt Brase, along with Beah Muhlbach, who would start for most teams, and near-Homecoming King Jason Ranne and Fil Torres, they've got quite a group. Plus, they should get playing time beyond NAU and Liberty. Advantage: '04

There you have it: the 2003-04 squad in a squeaker. With only eight real scholarship players like in '97, Lute has his work cut out for him - but that is when he excels, and speed kills.

There is also, of course, the fact that 1997 was the last time the UA yearbook was published, and with its Lazarus-like comeback in 2004, maybe this is the year. I'm not normally one for shameless plugs, but upon consultation of the scoreboard, I find: championships with a yearbook, 1; championships without a yearbook 0.