By Roman Veytsman
SAUL LOEB/Arizona Daily Wildcat
UA sophomore point guard Mustafa Shakur's court savvy and newfound leadership will be vital to the Wildcats' success this season. Shakur and his teammates will try to incorporate new talent with a newfound sense of purpose, following last season's first-round loss to Seton Hall in the NCAA tournament.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, November 19, 2004
The expectations were high last season, as Arizona had a preseason ranking of No. 4. But no one knew which Arizona team would show up - the team that beat Texas and Marquette early in the season, or the team that got swept by Washington in the season series and the Pacific 10 Conference Tournament and lost to Seton Hall in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
"I think it's a matter of if there are still question marks of which Arizona team you're going to see, the one that can play with anybody or the one that struggled," said head coach Lute Olson.
This year, the expectations are not as high for a program that bowed out in the first round of the tournament for the first time in five years and has made 20 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. In Arizona country, the expectations not being as high merely means the Wildcats are not a top-five team. However, their preseason ranking of No. 11 isn't too shabby.
"It should be an interesting year," Olson said. "We have good quickness on the court. We have good depth, which is going to help us maintain defensive pressure better."
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The Wildcats lost only one contributor from last year's team, forward Andre Iguodala, who left early for the NBA draft and was drafted ninth overall by the Philadelphia 76ers.
"In terms of replacing Andre (Iguodala), we're replacing a guy that led us in three categories," Olson said.
While Iguodala was the first player in UA history to lead the team in rebounds, assists and steals, the Wildcats have brought in plenty of firepower to offset the loss of the swingman. Five freshmen, including McDonald's All-American Jawann McClellan, were added to the team, along with the return of Isaiah Fox from injury.
"The guys we've got coming in are going to be ready to help us right away," Olson said. "We have good flexibility with those guys. It seems like everyone can play multiple positions."
Even with the added depth, there are still two major questions surrounding this year's team:
Will there be chemistry within the team?
Who will step up to be the leader?
The latter question has the easier answer, with everyone pointing to sophomore Mustafa Shakur as the leader and next great UA point guard. As a freshman, Shakur was sometimes tentative to speak up, but is now ready to take over this experienced team. Seniors Salim Stoudamire and Channing Frye are also poised to step in as leaders.
"It's not just Mustafa that will lead the team, but Salim and Channing have been here for four years, and they will voice their opinions more," said sophomore center Kirk Walters, who will redshirt this year along with sophomore guard Beau Muhlbach.
"They have done an excellent job with the leadership off the court, as well as on the court," added Olson. "We'll have good senior leadership."
As for the second question, Olson believes the answer will be just as easy.
"I love the chemistry of this team," he said. "These guys hardly do anything as individuals. They do almost everything as a team."
Nothing comes easily these days in college basketball though, and with Arizona's always tough schedule, the Wildcats will once again have to work to live up to expectations. But Shakur and the Wildcats welcome the expectations.
"It makes every player more hungry and work harder because you're not going to get anything easy," he said.