McClellan, Onobun unlikely to play, but expect fan following
For sophomore guard Jawann McClellan, freshman forward Fendi Onobun and assistant coach Josh Pastner of the No. 15 Arizona men's basketball team, Saturday's game at Houston will be more than a meaningless nonconference matchup.
The Houston natives expect a strong crowd of family and friends in attendance at Hofheinz Pavilion, leaving other Wildcats with few options regarding the tickets allotted to them for road games, Arizona head coach Lute Olson said yesterday.
"I think all of their teammates have been hit hard by tickets," Olson joked.
Ironically, neither McClellan (Milby High School) nor Onobun (Alief Taylor High School) will play in the game.
McClellan is academically ineligible until Dec. 17 and will travel to Houston using personal resources, though he will not be allowed to stay with the team. Onobun will redshirt this season.
As for Pastner, who was a candidate for the Houston head coaching job two years ago, the trip will be a chance to impress the recruiting pipeline that he has established already in his hometown.
"Josh, who normally sleeps four hours, will probably sleep one hour," said Olson of Pastner, who will be the head scout breaking down Houston.
The Houston position eventually went to Tom Penders, an old friend of Olson's while Penders was coaching at Tufts, Fordham, Columbia and Rhode Island, among his other stops. Penders and Olson sat next to each other at Final Fours because their last names were close alphabetically, Olson said.
Olson said he could not recall speaking to the Houston athletic director about the Houston job, adding he did not have any influence on the decision, but that he was likely on Penders' list of references.
"Josh's name was mentioned a lot, but Josh was not someone who felt he was ready," Olson said. "Josh needs more seasoning before he is ready to step in. That doesn't mean he couldn't recruit, but just the total package, he still needs a little time."
Olson said he believes that Penders can restore the once-proud Houston program, whose alumni include former NBA stars Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon, to respectability.
"Guys love to play for him, because he sort of lets them play," Olson said of Penders. "They play a wide-open style. I think he makes the game fun for people who play for him. I think his selection as the head coach of the University of Houston was a great step for them."
The decision to redshirt Onobun was made by the coaching staff after discussing the idea with Onobun and his family.
Olson said he spoke Tuesday night with Onobun's mother and spoke with Onobun again last night, after discussing the matter last week.
Onobun joins sophomore guard Jesus Verdejo as a redshirt this season.
The Houston pipeline
With Pastner and his father, Hal, entrenched in Houston high school basketball, Arizona was able to recruit Houston players of the year Ndudi Ebi, who decided to forgo college and was drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves, and McClellan.
Onobun and incoming recruit Nic Wise also hail from the area.
"There are a lot of good players in Houston, a lot," Olson said.
Olson said Arizona basketball has not been hard to sell to Houston prep players because of available nonstop flights to Tucson, a similar climate and the Wildcats' up-tempo style of play, which is the dominant style in Houston.
Olson said winning Saturday's game will matter recruitingwise.
"That's why we're going with the game instead of (playing Texas)," he said. "Our strength is in Houston, and we want to be seen there."
Arizona has a four-year series with Houston, which starts Saturday.
Stitching up Ivan
Junior forward Ivan Radenovic, who missed Sunday's game against Virginia because of a 24-hour flu, was back at practice yesterday but said he is not yet at full strength.
The stitches he received after the team's game against Kansas on Nov. 21 have been taken out, though, and he will wear the bandage above his eye for one more game.
After two losses in last week's EA Sports Maui Invitational in Hawaii, Arizona was bumped down in both major polls, falling to No. 15 in the Associated Press poll and No. 13 in the ESPN/USA Today poll.
The Wildcats, along with No. 13 Michigan State, are the only two-loss teams ranked in the AP Top 25.