Suspense builds as UA opens season

By Patrick Klein

Arizona Daily Wildcat

It seems to be an acceptable theory that this year's Arizona men's basketball team is an unknown quantity.

After all, it's a hypothesis even head coach Lute Olson would attest to.

"I'm as in the dark as you," Olson said at media day yesterday about the team, which lost two starters from last year to graduation All-American and do-everything point guard Damon Stoudamire, now with the Toronto Raptors of the NBA, and forward Ray Owes, a consistent inside force who now plays in the Continental Basketball Association.

Eight players return for Arizona: seniors Ben Davis, Joe McLean, Corey Williams, Reggie Geary and Joseph Blair, and sophomores Kelvin Eafon, Michael Dickerson and Miles Simon.

The Wildcats have four newcomers this season: 6-foot-11-inch forward Donnell Harris, a 1994 recruit who redshirted last year; 6-foot-1 junior guard James Harbour from Moorpark (Calif.) Junior College; 6-foot-2 freshman guard Jason Terry from Franklin High School in Seattle; and 6-foot-11 freshman forward A.J. Bramlett from La Cueva High School in Albuquerque, N.M.

With the loss of Stoudamire, who carried the bulk of the scoring load for the Wildcats and led the Pacific 10 Conference in scoring with 22.8 points per game last year, the scoring responsibility will be shared by a committee of players this year.

This potential for any number of players to contribute on this year's team made Olson understandably excited about seeing the new faces work out with the returnees.

"I'm always anxious to see the first practice," Olson said. "I'm hearing from the players and coaches that A.J. is the biggest surprise so far. Usually when inside guys come in as freshmen they tend to be soft, to shy away from contact, but I hear he's not backing down from anyone."

Olson said the newcomers and coaches benefited by a new NCAA rule that went into effect this year allowing players and coaches to work out together for up to two hours a week before official practice began, provided no more than three players participated. While the new rule helped the rookies to familiarize themselves with the drills and ease into major college basketball, Olson said the rule also helped with the players' conditioning.

"Usually during the first day and the first week of practice you'll get a lot of stiff and sore muscles, because it's a rule you don't get down and play defense on anybody in the off-season," Olson said. "But because we can work out people before practices begin, it has accomplished a lot that will make practice easier for us."

One player Bramlett may relieve in the post is Davis, who, along with Blair, will patrol the middle for Arizona in the Wildcats' three-guard, two-forward offense.

Davis spent the summer in Tucson with Geary, and while the two found plenty of time for basketball, Davis also managed to lose some weight.

"I lost about eight to 10 pounds," Davis said. "I was just too big for how I could be most effective in this offense. I'm a little quicker and I feel a whole lot better at 240, 245."

With the recent one-game suspension of Dickerson for borrowing a car from a booster for a day, and last year's suspensions of Davis and Stoudamire involving illegal payments and gifts, Olson was more than happy to discuss the problem agents present to collegiate sports.

"The biggest single problem the NCAA faces is agents," Olson said. "The problem cannot be solved by being reactive (suspending players), and the quicker someone accepts that fact, the sooner we'll get something done.

"We need state laws that allow universities to sue agents and to get with the NFL and NBA to not certify those agents who violate the code of ethics."

While Arizona did not do Midnight Madness holding an open practice at 12:01 a.m. Sunday to kick off the start of the basketball season defending national champion UCLA did, and Simon, who has several friends on the Bruin team, was on hand to witness the festivities.

"Their winning the title did nothing for me because I didn't win," Simon said. "I have a lot of friends on the team and I haven't beaten them yet."

The Wildcats went 0-2 against the Bruins last year.

Yesterday's first day of practice fell exactly seven months to the day since the Wildcats ended last season a 71-62 loss to Miami (Ohio) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on March 16.

For Williams, the beginning of practice is the perfect cure for the less-than-successful ending to last season.

"This (the first day of practice) is all you think about once you leave a game like that," he said. "Now there is no national champion, no rankings. It all starts all over again."

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