Vitale puts UA near top, baby!

By Jeff Goodman

Special to the Arizona Daily Wildcat

The departure of All-American Khalid Reeves leaves doubts in some people's minds as to who will fill the void on this year's Arizona men's basketball team, but college basketball analyst Dick Vitale says not to worry.

"There are a number of people who can pick up Reeves' points," said Vitale in a recent telephone interview. "I picked Arizona eighth in the country, baby! Look for Ray Owes to step forward and watch Ben Davis when he becomes eligible (Dec. 17). Davis is a big-time player who showed great potential when he was at (junior college in) Kansas."

Fellow ESPN analyst Bill Raftery, who chose Arizona as his top pick rather than going safe by selecting defending national champion Arkansas, may have been just another wild prediction, according to Arizona coach Lute Olson.

"There are people who are going to pick teams just to be different," Olson said. "I'm not saying Raftery is way off, but it's not going to make any difference once games get going."

Both Vitale and Raftery agree senior Damon Stoudamire is the top point guard in the country and is surrounded by talent.

"I think they have as good a shot as anyone," Raftery said. "Plus, most of their players have been to the big dance before."

Olson said he does not value preseason predictions and rankings highly, but some are more reliable than others.

"Guys like Vitale and (Billy) Packer put a lot of time and thought into the teams they pick," Olson said. "Vitale seems to have a good feel for the top teams."

Vitale picked Arkansas, Massachussets, Kentucky, North Carolina and UCLA as his top five but said Arizona is not far behind.

"I think the key may be Davis," Vitale said. "I don't think there's any doubt if he can play. I just hope he is ready to put all of the traveling behind him. He's the real Marco Polo of college basketball. From Kansas to Florida to Arizona."

Ironically, however, the Wildcat who got Vitale the most excited was the unemotional Ray Owes.

"I think Owes is totally underrated, baby," Vitale said. "Lute has had a lot of patience with him and he's gotten better and better. I

think the kid's got star ability."

Vitale selected Stoudamire as his first-team All-America point guard and Reggie Geary to his All-In-Your-Face Team for his tenacious defense.

"It's a unique situation playing next to Stoudamire," Vitale said. "I don't think you have to define the second guard as a shooter because Damon brings such a unique ability to the point guard position because he's able to knock down the jumper and three-pointer."

Vitale sang the praises of Olson and the Arizona program and said he can't wait to come to Tucson this season to watch the Wildcats play.

"If somebody says the top programs, you have to think right away of North Carolina, Duke, Indiana, Kentucky and Michigan," Vitale said. "Arizona is right there at that same level. I'm such a big fan of Lute Olson and Arizona. I think they have done it the right way. They pack the place, the kids graduate and they have great excitement at their games."

Lute Olson (on whether or not Ben Davis may, in fact, be eligible for the start of the seaon): "I'm not free to comment on that. The Buckley Amendment does not allow me to comment on player's academic situation. The fact that Ben can practice with us and prepare that way should allow him, once he is eligible, to step right in without too many problems.

"The only thing is that practice experience is not the same as game experience. But, based on what we've seen so far, there's no question he's one of our top people."

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