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Men's basketball notes: Olson tabs team leaders

File photo/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Junior guard Mustafa Shakur, right, congratulates senior forward Hassan Adams during Arizona's trouncing of California on Feb. 3 in McKale Center. Adams is expected to play a bigger leadership role in the absence of alumni Channing Frye and Salim Stoudamire.
By Roman Veytsman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, November 1, 2005
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Adams sole Cat to receive preseason buzz for awards

While the Arizona men's basketball team was once again ranked in the top 10 in the preseason ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, coming out at No. 9, only one Wildcat has garnered attention for any national award.

That player is none other than senior forward Hassan Adams, a preseason Wooden Award candidate, and according to head coach Lute Olson, it is his team this season.

"I think at this point, if you asked the guys, they would tell you that it's Hassan's team because he is a very outgoing, competitive guy," Olson said in a press conference Thursday. "He does a lot to bring the group together."

Adams averaged 12.7 points and six rebounds while starting all 37 games last season. With the departures of Channing Frye and Salim Stoudamire, Adams has graduated to the role of senior captain, one that will require him to be more than just an intense and excitable guy on the floor.

Adams has shown his versatility and dedication to the team by playing three different positions, including power forward, despite being undersized by as much as 6 inches at times.

Olson said he hopes Adams, redshirt senior forward Isaiah Fox, senior guard Chris Rodgers and junior point guard Mustafa Shakur develop into the team's leadership core.

Olson said he has been impressed with the production of Fox and the strides he has taken in the preseason.

"He's played the best he's played since he's been here," Olson said. "(This is) far and away the best condition he's ever been in - he's running the court well."

Fox's off-court discipline problems and spats with Olson over conditioning saw his playing time limited severely last year, as he averaged a career-low 9.4 minutes per game.

This summer, Fox lost more than 20 pounds while working with renowned trainer Trent Suzuki, who has also worked with Arizona recruit Chase Budinger.

With Fox being an elder statesman as a fifth-year senior, Olson said he hopes his experiences on the court will benefit the younger players.

"The thing that he brings to us is he's a very good communicator," Olson said. "(He is) one of the best guys we have out there in terms of talking, calling screens and helping the other guys on the court. I think he makes the other four guys on the floor with him play better because of the way he plays."

Rodgers has been nursing a knee injury but has jumped back into the mix in the last week.

"I'm still a step slow," he said after Saturday's practice.

Olson said he believes Rodgers, who's been known as a quiet competitor, can be a leader, but that he's been slowed by a lack of court time in practice.

"With Chris, it's been so difficult ... ever since he sprained that knee," Olson said. "He's spent a large part of the practice session with the trainer. He's not been on the court that much.I would assume that will change some now."

Olson said Rodgers would be a big factor during the regular season because of his prowess as the team's best defensive player.

If the point guard is indeed the extension of the head coach on the floor, Shakur is expected to be a leader.

Entering his third year as a starter, Shakur feels more comfortable than ever, Olson said.

"Mustafa is a lot more aggressive right now with the ball than he's been," Olson said. "He's just by nature much more talkative because he's been in that position now for two years, and I think he feels comfortable with that.

"He's one of the real veterans on the team," he said.

Shakur was on the All-Pacific 10 Conference freshman team two seasons ago and was named Pac-10 Freshman of the Year by ESPN commentator Dick Vitale.

His numbers dipped slightly last season, but when Shakur distributes the ball, the Wildcats are successful. Arizona has won 28 of 33 games in which Shakur dished five or more assists.

Shooting has not been his forte thus far, however, as he shot just 42.3 percent from the floor last year, a drop of more than 9 percent from 2003.

Shakur has worked tirelessly on his jump shot the last two offseasons, and Olson said he has seen some improvements.

"He's been shooting the ball well," Olson said. "With (our) style of play, being up and down and going full-court, he's very good in the open court, which makes him more effective."

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