Stoudamire a perfect cornerstone for new team

By R.P. Parsons

Arizona Summer Wildcat

Arizona's Little Big Man is taking his game to the Great White North.

Damon Stoudamire, the University of Arizona's point guard the past four seasons, was the 7th pick in last week's NBA draft. He was drafted by the Toronto Raptors, an expansion team set to play its first season next year.

The draft was held in the future home of the Raptors, the Toronto SkyDome.

Only one other Wildcat, Sean Elliot, has ever been drafted higher. Elliot was the third pick in the 1989 draft. Stoudamire and Elliot are the UA's only consensus first-team All-Americans. And no other player under 6 feet has ever been drafted higher.

As I sat watching the draft on TNT last Thursday, I must admit that I, like the Toronto fans, was surprised that the Raptors took the 5'10" Portland, Ore. native with their lottery pick.

Shame on me.

After watching Stoudamire perform his magic the past four seasons, it should've come as no surprise that Toronto GM Isiah Thomas, a standout NBA point guard himself, chose Stoudamire as the player to build a franchise around.

After all, Stoudamire was only first-team All-American last year. He was only named (along with UCLA's Ed O'Bannon) Pac-10 Player of the Year. He only guided the Wildcats to a 1993 Final Four appearance. And he only led the Pac-10 this year in scoring and assists.

Despite three early, and painful, exits from the NCAA tournament, Soudamire's success at the UA is undeniable.

But as I got set to watch the draft, I still let the doubts creep into my mind. He's too small. NBA teams like their point guards at least 6'-2", big and strong enough to fight for position, to run through picks. He's going to drop to a late first-round pick, I thought, maybe at No. 19 or 20.

Sure, I thought about some of the smaller players in the league: Charlotte's Muggsy Bogues, Atlanta's Spud Webb, San Antonio's Avery Johnson, Indiana's Del Harris.

Webb is little more than a novelty player now, but the other three all contribute significantly to their teams. But those are exceptions to to the rule.

Then the draft started, and the run on the big men started. The Golden State Warriors took Maryland's Joe Smith first, then the Los Angeles Clippers took Alabama's Antonio McDyess. The University of North Carolina's two super sophomores, Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace, went next to Philadelphia and Washington, respectively.

The Minnesota Timberwolves took a chance on Chicago highschooler Kevin Garnett with the No. 5 selection, and then the expansion Vancouver Grizzlies went for size with Oklahoma State's Bryant "Big Country" Reeves.

So when the time came for Toronto to pick at No. 7, Damon Stoudamire was not the name I really expected to hear.

After all, the Raptors, in the expansion draft two weeks ago, acquired former Chicago Bulls point guard B.J. Thomas. Why would Toronto pick another point guard? Surely, I thought, they'll go with O'Bannon, or possibly with scoring guard Shawn Respert of Michigan State.

But unbeknownst to myself and the Toronto fans, Isiah Thomas had plans: trade Armstrong and take the best point guard in the draft.

Damon Stoudamire, welcome to Toronto.

Some of the fans gathered at the SkyDome booed Stoudamire's pick, perhaps expecting O'Bannon or another scoring forward.

Listen up, Raptor fans: you will eat those boos. You have no idea what kind of special player you are getting. Isiah Thomas knows point guards, and he got you one that can make your team a winner.

Thomas undoubtedly saw what I failed to realize until later, that Stoudamire's game is actually perfectly suited to today's NBA. His ball-handling skills either match or rival most current guards, and while his play-making and passing are adequate, they will not be his strong suit in the NBA.

No, it his shooting range and ability to heat up in a hurry that will make him successful. Like the Lakers' Nick Van Exel, Stoudamire can not only handle and pass the ball; he can shoot it.

Van Exel was a sensation with the Lakers last year, a floor leader and scorer who all but ignored the traditional point guard axiom of pass first, shoot second. Stoudamire displayed the same ability last year, and Thomas must have seen it.

Anybody remember when the Cats visited Stanford last year? In a close game where the UA's other big guns were nearly silent, Stoudamire took it upon himself to grab the reins and lead his team.

I can recall so vividly sitting at O'Malleys with about 200 other fans, cheering on the 'Cats that game. There was Stoudamire on the big screen, pulling up for NBA - range threes and draining them. There he was dribbling through one, two, three Cardinal defenders, driving through the lane for a layup.

Stoudamire scored some ridiculous amount of points that night it was either 40 or 45 - and showed why he was the best point guard in the country.

Toronto fans, get ready.

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