Wildcats loaded with young talent

By Thoden K. Janes

Arizona Daily Wildcat

There are so many new faces on the Arizona women's basketball team this year, even head coach Joan Bonvicini is still having trouble remembering who's who.

At the Wildcats' annual media day yesterday in the Arizona Stadium Club, the fourth-year UA coach was introducing her players to reporters when she made an unintentional error in recognition.

Standing at a podium under the glare of ceiling and camera lights, Bonvicini gestured to freshman guard DeAngela Minter and said: "(This is) Amber Phoenix, Amber ... wait no that's not Amber I can't see with the light I'm sorry, DeAngela Minter. DeAngela, raise your hand. I can't see with the background over there."

Bonvicini is hardly to blame. With seven freshmen, and eight total newcomers, she won't be the only person to have trouble keeping their names straight.

After more than two weeks of practice, however, one thing is for sure Bonvicini has great expectations for this team.

"For me, I'm personally more excited about this year's team than any since I've been at the University of Arizona," she said. "They're much more talented, I think, than any year."

More talented than last year's team when standout frontcourt players like Bonnie Dove, Kim Conway, Janelle Thompson, Shawn Coder and Stacie Tave were seniors? More talented than the '92-93 team that boasted the height of 6-foot-3 center Megan Magee and 6-3 forward Margo Clark? More talented than Bonvicini's first team the '91-92 team which featured the fabulous point-guard play of Mary Klemm and Brenda Frese's 10 points per game?

The facts hint that the answer may be "No." First of all, one basketball publication, according to Bonvicini, has the UA ranked No. 6 in the Pacific 10 Conference. Secondly, the Wildcats have a history of futility they have never qualified for the NCAA tournament. And finally, the team's average age is younger than 19. So, "more talented than any year"? The answer, it seems, is up to the players themselves.

"I'm nervous, but at the same time, I'm excited," freshman forward Adia Barnes said of the quickly approaching season. "We have nothing to lose, I mean, we're all young and everybody is looking down on us. Us being underdogs I think it will push us harder."

Another source of motivation comes from the fact that the starting five still has yet to be determined. Brenda Pantoja, a 5-foot-8 junior, will likely start at the point, team co-captain JiJi Sweet has a stranglehold on the two-guard position, and 6-foot-2 sophomore Jacque Clark will probably be the Wildcats' No. 1 center, but the three and four spots are basically still up for grabs.

Seven forwards freshmen Barnes, Michelle Giordano, Atina Harris, Fatima Imara and Keisha Johnson, and veterans Sarah Northway and Andrea Constand will all be vying for playing time.

But apparently, there is no jealousy or resentment between the young and the old, only a strong feeling of competitiveness and unity.

"The chemistry is great because I think the returning players are letting the freshmen step in and make an impact," said Constand, a junior. "The freshmen bring a lot of good qualities to the team they are very mature. And freshmen aren't always all that mature."

Said Sweet: "I think with the (UA men's team), everybody knows who's going to start. But with us, it's really hard to tell because some of the freshmen are practicing well, and I think them working hard is pushing me to do better, because I'm just like, 'I'm not letting a freshman beat me.'"

NOTES

Amber Phoenix, a freshman guard out of Grossmont High School in San Diego, is a probable redshirt.

Jacque Clark reportedly received treatment yesterday because apparently she has been having problems with her back.

Sarah Northway has seen limited action in practice because of "torn cartilage" in her knee,

Bonvicini said. Indications are that she will be at full strength by the team's season opener at the Hawaii Tournament Nov. 25.

April Mixon, a UA sophomore who saw very limited playing time as a Wildcat freshman last year, will not return to the team this season. Bonvicini said Mixon was "dismissed for disciplinary reasons." Mixon said she plans to transfer next year and finish up her final two years of basketball eligibility.

The Wildcats will play their annual Red-Blue Scrimmage next Wednesday at 5 p.m. That game will be followed by the men's Red-Blue Scrimmage at 7:37.

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