By Monty Phan
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Last season bought respect for Pacific 10 Conference basketball.
This season tries to keep it going.
The National Association of Basketball Coaches' men's collegiate champion trophy, after residing with East Coast schools Duke and North Carolina and then in Arkansas, has made it back to the West. In fact, it adorns the cover of defending national champion UCLA's 1995-96 media guide. "West Coast basketball" doesn't seem so much like an oxymoron anymore.
And it shouldn't. Through the first four Associated Press Top 25 basketball polls, the Pac-10 has placed a team in the Top Five each week: UCLA in the first two, Arizona in the last two. And don't forget Stanford, which has also placed each week.
The rest of the Pac-10 may follow suit. Stay posted for details.
You know it's a rebuilding year when the coach decides to talk about his family more than his team.
At the Pac-10 conference's men's basketball media day last month, seventh-year coachBill Frieder joked about the loss of center Mario Bennett Ÿ a member of the All-Pac-10 team and AP All-American honorable mention last season Ÿ and what that had to do with his daughter.
"Mario left me a year early, and my daughter, who just completed her junior year in high school, says, 'I'm not going to high school next year. I'm going to college,'" Frieder said. "I says, 'What the hell are you talking about? You can't do that.'"
All kidding aside, however, the Sun Devils most likely won't repeat last season's Sweet Sixteen performance. They return two starters Ÿ senior guard/forward Ron Riley and junior guard Quincy Brewer Ÿ and top reserve Jeremy Veal, a sophomore guard. But the departure of Bennett, whose 3.5 blocked shots per game last year were first in the conference and eighth in the nation, leaves a gaping hole in the middle. To make matters worse for Frieder, he also lost starting point guard Marcell Capers, starting shooting guard Isaac Burton and backup center James Bacon, all to graduation.
So don't blame him if he isn't too excited about this season.
"I don't have a whole lot to talk about my team, because I lost everybody," Frieder said. "I don't know a lot about these guys. I don't have a whole hell of a lot to say about them."
Maybe next year, Bill. But hey, will you tell the one about your wife and the computer?
"Talking about my wife, this is a true story," Frieder said. "I'm sitting in the bathtub, and she walks in and says, 'What're you doing, taking a bath?'
"'No, I'm playing with my computer.' What the hell does she think I'm doing if I'm sitting in the tub?"
Hey, he'll be in town all season, folks.
The good news was that the Bears had Tremaine Fowlkes, last season's Pac-10 freshman of the year, back for this season.
The bad news was that they had Fowlkes back for this season. Fowlkes, a 6-foot-7, 210-pound forward, was suspended by the NCAA for a rules violation. That translates to a loss of 13.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, not to mention a big headache for fourth-year coach Todd Bozeman.
That means sophomore point guard Jelani Gardner and junior guard Randy Duck are left to pick up the slack. Gardner averaged 10.7 points and 6.5 assists last season, while Duck scored 9.6 per game.
With the loss of Fowlkes, whose appeal to the NCAA is pending, freshman Shareef Abdur-Rahim will be thrown into the spotlight. The 6-10, 225-pound forward averaged 31 points and 12.4 rebounds his senior year at Wheeler High School in Marietta, Ga.
Bozeman is hoping to rebound from last season's eighth-place conference finish.
"We draw blood nearly every day in practice," Bozeman said. "We were all disappointed about how we did last year."
If Frieder thinks he has problems, he should stay far, far away from Oregon head coach Jerry Green.
The Ducks return a grand total of four players from last year's 19-9 team. They lost All-Pac-10 guard Orlando Williams, the conference's fifth-leading scorer, and starters Jeff Potter, Darryl Parker and Zach Sellers. Four others graduated. And junior forward Henry Madden, who would've been a key reserve this season, was dismissed from the team during the summer for academic reasons.
"This year will be exactly the opposite of what he had last year Ÿ lots of new faces who will be expected to contribute immediately," said Green, in his fourth year. "Last year, we were very, very deep and this year we'll need to depend on some newcomers and have them be impact players for us to be as competitive as I'd like us to be."
For a bright spot, Green need look no further than point guard Kenya Wilkins. The junior averaged 12.1 points and 6.3 assists per game last season and will be relied on heavily should Oregon enjoy any success this season. Past Wilkins, however, it looks awfully dim for the Ducks.
Move over Frieder and Green. Here comes Eddie Payne.
To say the first-year Oregon State coach has his work cut out for him would be an understatement. First, look at the Beavers' top returner: senior guard J.D. Vetter. Then, look at his numbers last season: 4 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1 assist per game. Now, look at who's left, and their numbers: guard Brent Barry (21 points, 5.9 rebounds per game); forward Mustapha Hoff (18.8 points, 7.5 rebounds per game); and Stephane Brown (11.5 points per game).
Listening to Payne talk about his team at Pac-10 media day last month, some reporters may have asked for Kleenex.
"We chose to put the coaching staff on the media guide because we had no pictures of anybody that had ever played before," Payne said. "The temptation is to talk about what we don't have as a program right now, and there are some fairly significant things in terms of experience, size, who's going to be the point guard."
After five years, Jim Anderson left a program that he most likely knew would redefine the term "rebuilding year." Barry and Hoff, the second- and fourth-leading scorers in the conference last season, respectively, are both gone from a team that finished sixth in the Pac-10.
"We are definitely going to struggle a great deal," Payne said. "I don't think there's any more difficult challenge that I've seen coaching. We've got to look down the road Ÿ these young men will be severely tested."
Take that as an early vote for understatement of the season.
The Trojans lost their last 14 games of the year last season. Things can only get better, right?
Second-year head coach Charlie Parker sure hopes so. After serving as interim coach last season, Parker's Trojans finished last in the Pac-10. But returning is the conference's top rebounder from last season, Jaha Wilson, who averaged 10.1 boards and 14.2 points. Guard Cameron Murray is also back, as well as forwards Stais Boseman and Tremayne Anchrum, who missed last season with a knee injury.
"I think we have the potential to finish in the top half (of the conference)," Parker said. "I made a promise to alumni that we'll challenge for the conference title within three years."
Although the phrase "A new era begins" is displayed on the cover of USC's media guide, "Wait 'til next year" might be more appropriate. That's when senior forward Rodrick Rhodes, a transfer from Kentucky, will be eligible to play. Rhodes must sit out the 1995-96 season in accordance with NCAA rules.
A 5-10 junior point guard with an eye for the open man. A 6-2 senior shooting guard who can score. Sound familiar? Like, say, the Arizona backcourt of Damon Stoudamire and Khalid Reeves of two years ago?
Tenth-year head coach Mike Montgomery hopes his backcourt tandem of Brevin Knight and Dion Cross translates to the same kind of success the Wildcats enjoyed at the Final Four. Add 7-1 center Tim Young to the mix and success would be hard to avoid.
"Brevin is very much a key to our team," Montgomery said. "We expect him to be a better player Ÿ make better decisions, be a leader, do more things to make those around him better."
Knight's 2.3 steals per game were tops in the conference last season, while his 6.6 assists per game were good for fifth. Cross led the Pac-10 in field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage and averaged 16.8 points per game. Young was third in both blocked shots and rebounds and was an All-Pac-10 freshman team pick.
After four games, UCLA has already lost more games (three) than all of last year (two). There's no question a lot of that has to do with the graduation of national player of the year Ed O'Bannon, point guard Tyus Edney and center George Zidek. Another factor is youth. Though the Bruins' core revolves partly around junior Charles O'Bannon, it also concerns four sophomores whose only season of college basketball involved winning the national championship.
Returning with Charles O'Bannon are last season's All-Pac-10 freshman team selections Toby Bailey and J.R. Henderson, who will both be counted on if UCLAis to enjoy continued success. Cameron Dollar plays the point, and freshman Jelani McCoy is the man down low.
"We have four sophomores who are talented, but they have not ever faced any adversity. They think it's easy," said eighth-year coach Jim Harrick. "Toby Bailey of course had a great year for us last year and is bigger and stronger."
Look at it this way: There's really nowhere for the Huskies to go but up.
After finishing ninth in the conference last season, Washington returns senior guards Bryant Boston and Jason Hamilton and sophomore Mark Sanford, who led all conference freshmen in scoring at 14.5 points per game and was an All-Pac-10 freshman team pick last season.
Needless to say, third-year head coach Bob Bender is excited about what could be his best season in Seattle.
"We've got key production coming back," Bender said. "It all starts with Bryant Boston and Mark Sanford."
The Huskies haven't made the postseason in eight years, but they may be setting their sights too high if they're counting on making the NCAA Tournament. They may have to settle for some upsets and the National Invitation Tournament.
"We've had a magical ride in Seattle with the Mariners," Bender said. "Maybe we can capture a little Mariner magic."
Second-year coach Kevin Eastman has all five starters returning from last season. Can you blame him for being elated?
"It's exciting," Eastman said. "People will want to beat us. We'll probably be the favorite in some games."
Why is Eastman so happy? Well, forward Mark Hendrickson is one reason. The senior was first in the conference in field-goal percentage at 62.7 and second in rebounding with 9 per game. Junior Isaac Fontaine's 18.5 points per game were good for seventh in the Pac-10, and point guard Donminic Ellison's 6.9 assists per game placed him third.
"There's a lot of expectations on us this year," Eastman said. "We can do one of two things with those expectations: We can fear them of we can take on the challenge of them. Let's not be cocky about what's going on with WSU basketball. Let's be confident."
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