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NBA at ua: Suns rising at McKale

Claire C. Laurence/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Phoenix Suns players Dijon Thompson, left, and Jim Jackson go up for a rebound during Tuesday's team practice in McKale Center. The team will hold a public intrasquad scrimmage in McKale Center on Saturday; tickets are $7 for adults and $3 for children and students with a CatCard.
By Michael Schwartz
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, October 6, 2005
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Team now owned by UA grad, fast building fan base in Old Pueblo

After a downward trend in scoring culminated in NBA teams averaging only 93.4 points per game in 2003-2004, last season's Phoenix Suns played a new brand of basketball involving numerous fast breaks and 3-pointers being launched whenever possible.

It worked, giving the team a 33-win improvement over the season before while playing an exciting brand of basketball defined succinctly in the team's new marketing slogan: "Making basketball fun again."

While fans around the nation have joined the Suns bandwagon in droves, Suns head coach Mike D'Antoni said Tuesday that he hopes his team's stay at McKale Center this week for training camp helps the team gain more fans in Southern Arizona.

"I know they like basketball, that's for sure," said D'Antoni, last season's NBA Coach of the Year. "Hopefully, we play the type of basketball that they like watching."

The Suns took root in McKale Center this season after being forced out of Northern Arizona's Walkup Skydome in Flagstaff, their usual training camp home, because of an NAU home football game.

The Suns had practiced in Flagstaff 16 times in the past 19 years but did not come to Tucson to train over that span.

Team President and General Manager Bryan Colangelo said Tuesday that he assembled the information on potential training camp sites, the final decision for which belonged to majority owner and managing partner Robert Sarver, an Arizona graduate and Tucson native.

Phoenix Suns
intrasquad scrimmage
Saturday • 7 p.m.
McKale Center

"Tucson and the U of A and (men's basketball head) coach (Lute) Olson and the basketball program really stepped up and gave us everything we needed," Colangelo said. "(Olson) just was involved in the process of discussions about facilities and what it would take. Obviously, there were some financial terms to the deal, and they were receptive to us coming down. It just turned out to be a great scenario."

Colangelo, last year's NBA Executive of the Year, said that team management will assess the success of this trip in Phoenix to decide whether to return to the Arizona campus.

"The early reports from the coaching staff have been that the facilities are fantastic and that everything is really right on," he said. "We feel like it's right on cue for everything we were hopeful to have."

The Suns will use McKale Center for two-a-days today and tomorrow and will hold one practice Saturday morning before playing a public intrasquad scrimmage at McKale Center at 7 p.m. The team plans to leave Tucson following Sunday morning's practice.

While practices are closed to the public, Arizona students and Tucson residents can get a taste of the Suns' frenetic pace at Saturday's scrimmage, the first Suns exhibition game played in Tucson since 2000.

"It's always a great thing to expand your fan base," said Phoenix forward Amaré Stoudemire. "That helps the players, it helps the team and it helps the NBA, so (Tucson's) where we've got to go."

Local Suns fans who don't want to make the two-hour drive to America West Arena in Phoenix can watch most home games on Fox Sports Net.

A national audience can see 22 Suns games this season, as the team makes nine appearances on both ESPN and TNT and four appearances on ABC.

With the team's successful 2004-2005 season and a new owner with local ties, Colangelo said Tucson looks like a natural fit to be called Suns territory.

"With the improvement of our team over the last couple of years, hopefully there's renewed interest in this market," Colangelo said. "I believe that there's also a common thread now with ownership being Robert Sarver, (his) having grown up here and having gone to the university. It seems to make a lot of sense that the organization has a relationship not only with the university but the city of Tucson."

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