Athlete of the Year: Shooting star

By Roman Veytsman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Sharpshooter Salim Stoudamire steals the show during senior year

Salim Stoudamire has come a long way since he arrived at the university, a shy and misunderstood individual trying to escape the shadow of his cousin and close friend, Damon Stoudamire.

Though Salim remains shy and, to a point, misunderstood, the final hurrah in his senior season was one he said he thoroughly enjoyed.

Out was the scowl on the face of Stoudamire after missing shots, described by many, including head coach Lute Olson, as a perfectionist who is very hard on himself. In was the smile seldom seen in his first three years.

"I expected myself to become a better basketball player, meet new people, and just have fun and enjoy it," Stoudamire said. "My senior year really summed that up, and now I'm satisfied."

Satisfied is not a word Stoudamire threw out very often during his career, which saw him pick up a tremendous amount of accolades.

In each of his four seasons, he earned All-America honors, while shooting his way to fourth place on Arizona's all-time scoring list.

In his senior season, he earned four All-America accolades, including being named to the prestigious Wooden Award All-America list.

Despite having such a productive career, Stoudamire became a household name, mainly in his final year, when he averaged a team-leading 18.4 points per game. Not only was his scoring up, but Stoudamire became a team leader, stepping up in big games.

In the Pacific 10 Conference Tournament championship game, Stoudamire dropped 37 points against Washington, equaling his career-high.

When the game was on the line, Stoudamire had the ball, making game-winning shots against UCLA, ASU and Oklahoma State.

It became a familiar sight, Stoudamire isolated at the top of the key, the ball stuck to his hand like a yo-yo. Stoudamire would dribble, changing pace to keep his defenders off-balance, and then rise up so quick people guarding him were still cemented to the ground.

He didn't need time to get his shot off, and a hand in his face had little effect. When he was hot, no one in college basketball could stop him, and as he became hot, so did the Wildcats.

While he faced obstacles on the court, most of them came away from his safe haven.

Suspended several times from practices and games, Stoudamire sometimes became alienated from his teammates and the coaching staff.

This past season, though, he mended fences by being a crucial part of the team, asking teammates to go out to lunch for the first time, said senior Channing Frye. Frye said Stoudamire would come over and hang out, watch basketball with the team and talk about everything. He finally bonded with the team.

"You learn from experiencing, and I've had my fair share of negativity here, and I've learned from it and put it all behind me. I had a great senior year," Stoudamire said.

Stoudamire was humble when receiving awards. He deflected the attention to his teammates, thanking them for their support.

"On the court, I will always remember how close I was with my teammates and the battles we've been through and how we stuck together," he said.

"Off the court, (I remember) just interacting with my teammates and my coaching staff and their support, supporting me and my teammates, and just the loving atmosphere Arizona had to provide."

As for his relationship with Olson, reportedly rocky at times, Stoudamire said the negative aspects were often over-dramatized.

"People go off of what the media hypes it up to be a little bit too much," he said. "I understand that people need to write stories and attract readers, but it's never been a case of where we didn't like each other. It's just sometimes we didn't see eye-to-eye, but (our relationship is) the best it's ever been now."

It's been a long journey these last four years, a roller coaster ride, but now that the end is here, Stoudamire said he will definitely miss being in college.

"I'm a very shy person, and me coming here, I definitely opened myself up to people," he said.

What will he take away from his time as a Wildcat?

In typical Stoudamire fashion, he reverted back to basketball and the people who supported him, pushed him and clung onto him, before and after he stepped into the spotlight.

"My mental approach to games (is what has changed)," he said. "I have to credit my teammates, my coaching staff for that because they stuck with me through thick and thin."