Frontcourt fivesome fills in for drafted Frye with quantity, quality
For an outsider, the task of picking the most difficult member of the Arizona men's basketball team's frontcourt to guard is not an easy one.
"I think (redshirt freshman forward) Mohamed (Tangara) is kind of like this wild man who just goes after every ball, flailing his arms around," said senior forward Isaiah Fox. "It's tough to play against him because he's so physical."
"I'd have to go with Bret (Brielmaier)," said junior center Kirk Walters of the sophomore forward, who became only the second walk-on in head coach Lute Olson's tenure to start a game, entering the starting lineup against Michigan State last week. "He's really got all the little things down, the little things that aggravate you. The holding (of) jerseys, he's got all that down."
Junior forward Ivan Radenovic would prefer to miss both of them in drills.
"Bret Brielmaier's a tough kid and kind of shoulders me," he said. "He's strong and has good balance, so it's hard to play against him.
"Also, Mohamed. Mohamed is a tough kid, man. Sometimes I think he's going to hurt me. Everybody's going to be scared of Mohamed."
"I'm going to say Mohamed," Brielmaier said. "He's just so physical and so athletically gifted that it's hard to go against him."
Tangara appreciated the praise but applied it to the team.
"I make them better, they make me better," he said. "If we play harder (in practice), the game's going to be easier.
"We just help each other. That's how big men are," Tangara added
Such is the case with Arizona's frontcourt this season: a tight-knit group of five facing one another every day in practice, constantly pushing limits.
This early in the season, it appears Radenovic has the overall edge, leading the big men in both points (9.3 per game) and rebounds (5.3 per game). Walters is nipping at his heels (7.8 points, 4.6 rebounds) and also leads the team in blocks at 2.25 per game.
Brielmaier has been a pleasant surprise for Olson by starting two of Arizona's four contests, averaging a bucket a game to go along with 2.7 rebounds and 0.7 assists.
Fox had his best game of the season on Sunday, scoring six points against Virginia while pulling down a pair of boards.
Likely the most raw of the group is the Bamako, Mali, native Tangara. Yet he, too, produced this weekend by putting up a career-high five points to go along with a block.
Four of the five players stand over 6-foot-9, weighing in at an average of 245 pounds, but each and every one of them will continue to play a vital role in the success of Arizona basketball in 2005-06, helping to fill the void left by former center Channing Frye, now of the NBA's New York Knicks.
"Channing's an amazing player," Brielmaier said. "It's always hard to lose a guy like that."
"He was a leader on and off the court," Radenovic added. "We're definitely going to miss him, but I think we're going to have to do something about it."
Now, all eyes are on this large bunch to create their own legacy.
"There's a little pressure," Walters admitted with a laugh. "Channing did so many good things and was a four-year starter. It's a little tough still."
"There's five or six of us that can step up and fill up the points, so I don't feel that pressure," Radenovic said. "Maybe last year after we finished the season, ... but we got a whole lot better this summer, and I don't think that I'll have the pressure."
Frye's loss isn't being measured merely from his on-court success, but also by the missing advice he gave to the squad's younger players.
"My first year, he was the only guy who showed me some stuff, how to pick and roll, things like that," Tangara said. "I think I learned a lot from him."
"He'd always tell you little things in the post, give you a little trick that will help you get open or get extra rebounds," Brielmaier said.
For the Paul Bunyans of this year's Arizona men's basketball team, they have the comfort of knowing Frye is only a phone call away.
"He's been through all this, so he knows exactly what you're going through, and he knows exactly what you want out of this whole thing," Fox said.
One mainstay in the Arizona frontcourt the past few years hasn't been a big man at all, but rather Arizona assistant coach Josh Pastner.
"Josh helps a lot; he's a wonderful guy. You don't see him do the stuff he does," Tangara said. "He's just someone (with whom) you don't see him doing the job, but he's one of the key people who have helped me."
Pastner himself has had nothing but praise for his players during the young stages of the season.
"All the guys are doing really well," he said. "Isaiah's playing really well right now. You have to give credit to Bret Brielmaier. ... He's looked great.
"I'm hoping that all of them make an impact," Pastner said. "We need all of them to make an impact."
Because of the number of available big men, Olson said their roles in the team's offense will differ from prior years.
"If you take a look at some of the inside people that we have, there will be situations where we will be playing our big guys together," he said.
Even the players recognize the change.
"This year, we'll be a lot more diverse in terms of who's playing," Brielmaier said. "We have a lot more options, where it was just Channing in the past."