Exceeding expectations

By Arlie Rahn

Arizona Daily Wildcat

When Arizona center A. J. Bramlett stepped onto the court in New York City's Madison Square Garden to take on Georgetown, it was a dream come true.

When he brushed off a foul and hit a key basket to help his team withstand a late Hoya rally, there were few words that could express what the 6-foot-11 freshman was feeling.

"Playing against Georgetown was a great experience for me," Bramlett said. "I had been watching them play on TV since I was a little kid. And to be able to go in and make a positive contribution in a crucial time was a big confidence booster for me."

Bramlett's play is an even bigger accomplishment considering the UA coaches were thinking of having him sit the season out before it began.

"I knew they were considering redshirting me, but I didn't think it would happen," Bramlett said. "I didn't know if they realized how much time I put into working out this summer. And after the first day I felt I should be playing with these guys. From then on I just got more confident."

But when Bramlett, from La Cueva High School in Albuquerque, N.M., chose Arizona, he was just hoping to come in and learn the ropes from the UA's duo of senior centers, Joseph Blair and Ben Davis.

"When I decided to come here I was thinking that I could play in the years to come," he said. "I knew they already had Joseph and Ben this season, so I just wanted to try and really learn a lot from the seniors here, and maybe help out a bit too."

Bramlett's development, however, has been ahead of both the players' and coaches' expectations.

"I think he's doing a great job," Blair said. "He's picking up things a lot quicker than any other freshman I've seen since I've been here. I think everybody is happy with how he's been playing. He not only plays hard in practice, but he also steps in the game and gets things done. I don't know what more you can ask of a freshman."

Said head coach Lute Olson, "I think A.J. has played with a lot of confidence. He's very aggressive in practice situations and he does not seem to be bothered by game pressure."

One thing Bramlett does have to deal with is his physical conditioning. With the many games the Wildcats play, the coaching staff sometimes has to have an easier workout to rest the starters.

"Staying in shape really doesn't bother me," Bramlett said. "While I might not get the game time, I feel that if I go all out in practice I will be in pretty good shape if the team would ever need me."

Even with his recent success, this season has been a tough transition for the former New Mexico prep player of the year. He has gone from averaging 24.5 points and 13.2 rebounds per game in high school to waiting his turn on the bench.

"It was tough for me when the season began, but I know that my role this season will be kind of a fill-in one," Bramlett said. "I'll just come in whenever anyone needs a break and try and make something positive happen, and I think I've been able to do that in most of the games I've played in.

"That's all I'm trying to do this year and I think good things will happen if I just keep working hard."

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