By Ryan Casey and Karla Gonzalez
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, October 31, 2005
It may have a high spot in many preseason polls, but the Arizona men's basketball team now ranks even higher in the hearts of many Special Olympians.
About 90 Special Olympics athletes from Southern Arizona visited Saturday's practice and scrimmage and received personal instruction from Arizona head coach Lute Olson and each member of the 2005-06 team.
The Wildcats led the Special Olympians in drills ranging from layups to free throws.
"I think it's great for the athletes that are here, but it's also great for our players to recognize how fortunate they are to have the abilities that they have," Olson said Saturday. "This is a huge day (for the Special Olympians), because now for the rest of the year they can watch our guys play on TV, and they know every one of them from going through this."
After the station drills, players stuck around to make sure each Special Olympian in attendance took a souvenir home. Wildcats signed everything from posters to balls for the participants, young children and adults among them.
"It's just fun to give back to the community in any way you can," said junior point guard Mustafa Shakur. "Just having fun - putting a smile on the kids' faces and the family members, the mothers and fathers that are out here."
Olson said he's held the event for the last 18 years, and that it's something he plans to continue.
"We always work it in," he said.
Casey Jones, area director for the Southern Arizona Special Olympics branch in Sierra Vista and a parent of one of the participants, said the event brightened the day of the athletes in attendance.
"Many of our athletes don't have a whole lot going for them," he said. "When they have the opportunity to have an interchange with these players, it validates their worth.
"It's hard to really explain, but not everybody in Arizona gets to spend time one-on-one with an Arizona Wildcat basketball player," he said. "And that's worth an awful, awful lot."
One of the athletes, a 21-year-old named Adrienne, tried to explain her joy after spending a day with the Wildcats.
"It's really great to see them in person, and it's really fun to hang out with them," she said.
The day also seemed to have a profound effect on the players.
"We have a great opportunity and been blessed by God to be able to play a sport and just have fun with it every day," Shakur said. "There (are) a lot of unfortunate people out there (who) don't have the opportunity to do the things that we do."
"It always feels good if you can help someone or make someone happy," said junior forward Ivan Radenovic. "I feel good when I see those kids smiling at least one day in their life."