Sophomore sensations

By Christopher Wuensch
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, November 21, 2003

Arizona's season-ending loss to Kansas in the Elite Eight last March might have had a different feel, if it was even played at all, had the Jayhawks had their way back in the fall of 2001.

High atop Kansas' wish list of high school standouts were two star prep recruits, both aggressively pursued by then-head coach Roy Williams and his staff.

It was a pair of close friends; one from California, the other from Illinois.

Two years later, Hassan Adams and Andre Iguodala find themselves as teammates in Tucson - not Lawrence, Kan.

Iguodala and Adams are preparing to lead Arizona back to the NCAA tournament this season, as the Wildcats start with a No. 4 ranking after finishing a game short of the Final Four in April.

This season, the sophomores enter the campaign with a year's experience under their belts and a newfound hunger to win a national championship.

The departure of three seniors leaves the Wildcats looking for team leadership, something Adams says will come in time.

"Everyone on our team goes out and plays hard. We leave everything on the floor. That is how we practice," he said. "We all try to push ourselves to get better. All we can do as a team is try to get better."

Both possess the necessary on-court skills to join the nation's elite, but harnessing those talents will be the key for the 2003-04 season.

"With Andre, his leadership needs to be in a more positive vein, but that is happening," head coach Lute Olson said. "But we are nowhere near where we need to be."

Olson said that Adams' leadership will come with his actions on the court, in a similar fashion to teammate Channing Frye, who wears his emotions on his sleeve and leaves everything out on the court.

Frye couldn't be happier to have guys like Iguodala beside him on the court.

"Andre helps a lot," Frye said. "I think everyone thought they could quadruple-team me down there because I'm the only big guy. But now the added rebounding of Andre and Hassan helps. Our athleticism is amazing."

Adams' path to the desert was simple in comparison to his sophomore counterpart.

The 6-foot-4, 201-pound guard chose to play and attend school in Tucson after his first visit to the Old Pueblo and his first meeting with Hall of Fame head coach Lute Olson.

Iguodala's route to Arizona, however, wasn't nearly as straightforward.

While the dismissal of legendary Arkansas head coach Nolan Richardson sent shock waves through the Razorback basketball program after Richardson claimed racial discrimination by his former employer, the episode paid dividends for the Wildcats when the NCAA granted a void to those who signed National Letters-of-Intent with the Southeastern Conference school.

The NCAA ruling allowed Iguodala to pull out of his commitment to one UA, and sign shortly after with another - the University of Arizona.

Arizona and the 6-foot-7 Iguodala were among those recipients. Signed by Richardson and the Razorbacks, Iguodala had goals of joining the track squad at Arkansas on top of playing basketball.

Annually, the Razorbacks' track and field program is among the elite squads in the country. Iguodala's personal best 6-foot-10 high jump at Lanphier High School in Illinois made him a nice fit for the Arkansas system.

Basketball was the Springfield, Ill., native's passion, however, and Iguodala seized the opportunity and packed his bags for the Southwest to join his new friend Adams.

Track and field aspirations were put on hold upon his arrival at Arizona, as the 2002-2003 All-Pac-10 Freshman honoree decided he'd have to have a one-track mind if he was to get any playing time on the UA's all-star-caliber squad.

It was no coincidence when Adams and Iguodala were paired up as roommates to start their UA career. The two were destined to become close both on and off the court, as the commonalities are too numerous for it not to happen.

The same season Adams was named Los Angeles Times high hchool player of the year, Iguodala was granted a similar nod by the Chicago-Sun Times.

When Iguodala was nominated as Illinois Mr. Basketball, Adams won the award in California - an honor last bestowed to a guard when current NBA star Baron Davis of the New Orleans Hornets took the honor in 1997.

Using his size and wingspan, Iguodala made a name for himself last season as an all-around athletic talent. He proved to be an interesting blend of passing, shooting and rebounding, a combination mirroring the talents of All-America UA forward Luke Walton, a teammate of Iguodala's during his freshman campaign.

Olson said Iguodala's passing ability should get him national recognition, if it doesn't already.

"This was one of the things that Andre talked about last year," Olson said. "One of his goals as a player was to be a great passer. For that to be one of his goals, it also tells you a lot about him. He's not into whether he scores a lot of points. He just wants to win."

Adams' roller-coaster freshman year left the Los Angeles native as an instant fan favorite. It didn't take long for Tucson locals to take notice of his athleticism, energy and aerial antics.

Iguodala and Adams will be looked toward this season to provide more than just acrobatics. Off-season work is already apparent, after the pair combined for 41 points and 20 rebounds during the Wildcats' exhibition win over the Sydney Comets last week. By combining their patented inside finishing abilities with new-found confidence while shooting on the perimenter, Iguodala and Adams combined for a torrid .782 shooting percentage, a considerable increase from their averages last season of .381 and .490, respectively.

"I have been working on my jumper all summer," Iguodala said after the team's Red-Blue scrimmage two weeks ago. I wanted to come out tonight and shoot to show you guys I could."

The ability of Adams and Iguodala to make the players around them better is the one thing freshman point guard Mustafa Shakur said he appreciates most about playing with the pair.

"It's great to have them out there because if you make a bad pass, they can make up for it and still finish," he said.