By Roman Veytsman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, November 17, 2005
In his 23 seasons with the Arizona men's basketball team, head coach Lute Olson has shown he doesn't rebuild, he reloads.
On paper, Olson seems to have the weaponry he needs for success in 2005-06, but many questions still remain:
1. Who will fill the shoes of former center Channing Frye?
At first glance, the choice seems to be junior center Kirk Walters. Walters has gone from a skinny twig in his freshman year to a muscle-bound behemoth entering his third season.
Arizona assistant coach Josh Pastner hinted that Walters may one day be a better shot blocker than Frye, who left as the second-leading swatter in program history.
The reality, however, is Frye's absence will likely be filled by committee, with redshirt senior Isaiah Fox, redshirt freshman Mohamed Tangara and possibly even sophomore Bret Brielmaier seeing some minutes to keep everyone fresh on defense.
2. Can Hassan Adams carry this team on his shoulders?
A senior forward, Adams must go from the team's third scoring option to its BMOC (Big Man On Campus).
Defenses will now be keyed on stopping him, but his tremendous athleticism (he was selected to Dick Vitale's All-Dunker Team) and versatility will make it tough for just one defender to stop him.
There is no question that Adams is the leader of this team and that he's still bothered by the Wildcats' Elite Eight loss to Illinois in March, in which he missed a would-be game-winner in overtime.
Undoubtedly, Adams learned from that game and will have plenty of chances to have the ball in his hands with time running down and the game on the line.
While he should receive lots of help from many of his teammates, Adams' shoulders are broad enough for him to carry this team if need be.
3. How much will freshmen contribute?
Forward Marcus Williams has been nothing short of sensational in exhibition play, a "diaper dandy" as Vitale would call him.
Williams can score and defend with a great knowledge of the game and is ready to contribute right away. He will likely see more minutes than sophomore guard Jawann McClellan received as a freshman last season (15.4 per game).
Guard J.P. Prince is not yet as polished as Williams, but certainly has the potential to be a big-time player. He needs to cut down on his turnovers, and may struggle initially with bringing the ball up the court against small and pesky guards.
Prince's long arms, though, will make him a weapon in the team's press defense, and his minutes will increase as he gets accustomed to the college game.
Forward Fendi Onobun will likely redshirt after Arizona finishes its exhibition season.
Onobun is an athletic specimen, with a big body and left-handed release. He resembles NFL tight end Antonio Gates, who was an all-conference performer for Kent State's hoops team.
If Onobun can develop his skills, he will eventually have a solid career.
4. What impact will McClellan's ankle injury have on his game and the team?
McClellan is as tough a player as they come, and the personal tragedy he has suffered in recent months has spurred him to overcome obstacles.
With that said, his lingering injuries, which include bone spurs in his feet, will not go away, and McClellan will have to play in a lot of pain throughout the year.
His explosiveness and ability to snag offensive rebounds will be hampered, making him less effective, but resting during his suspension should give him some time to heal.
A healthy McClellan gives the Wildcats an enormous boost, both emotionally and physically, but if the injuries continue to nag him, his presence on the floor could become a detriment.
5. Is Arizona a realistic National Championship contender?
The Wildcats start the season ranked in the nation's top 10 yet again and have high aspirations for the NCAA Tournament.
The season-opening EA Sports Maui Invitational that starts Monday will be a good test, but the most important part of the year will be the stretch run.
The Wildcats played their best basketball at the end of last season and thus were able to advance far through March Madness.
If the Wildcats play together as a team, their talent is capable of taking them to Indianapolis.
Roman Veytsman is a journalism junior. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.