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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    A new hoops mentality

    UA senior guard Jawann McClellan, left, fights for a loose ball with ASUs Christian Polk in a win over the Sun Devils on Jan. 24 in McKale Center. After a disappointing season, the Wildcats promised added toughness and McClellan could be the leader of the group.
    UA senior guard Jawann McClellan, left, fights for a loose ball with ASU’s Christian Polk in a win over the Sun Devils on Jan. 24 in McKale Center. After a disappointing season, the Wildcats promised added toughness and McClellan could be the leader of the group.

    The 2006-07 season ended much like it began for the Arizona men’s basketball team, with an opponent pointing out the Wildcats’ lack of toughness.

    After losing at Virginia on Nov. 12, the Arizona players had a quote from Cavaliers guard Sean Singletary posted on their locker as motivation, with the message being not to play soft.

    Then after losing to Purdue in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on March 16, Boilermaker head coach Matt Painter attributed the victory to winning the battle of intangibles, a claim few disputed due to Arizona’s talent advantage.

    Enter new UA assistant Kevin O’Neill, who was brought in at the expense of 18-year Arizona assistant Jim Rosborough. O’Neill has a reputation for tough defense and not being afraid to get in a player’s face. He is expected to change the culture of Arizona basketball.

    “”There’s certain measures of toughness that we all can see, and it’s easy to tell which team is tougher oftentimes on the court,”” O’Neill said. “”Changing that or improving that are things that are a cultural mentality more than anything.””

    “”Being tough mentally is as important as physically. If you are tough mentally, you do the right thing,”” he said. “”A consistency in intensity and toughness would help any team get better.””

    The plan is for him to instill that toughness, which should lead to an increase in the victory column after Arizona has failed to reach the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament three out of the last four years. O’Neill said he always brings intensity to his job, which he hopes helps the team become tougher.

    “”I think it’s important for any team that’s going to compete for league championships, national championships, has to play with a high level of intensity,”” he said, “”and I’m sure our guys will do that.””

    For forward Chase Budinger, toughness is all about the mentality. That means not calling fouls during pickup games, a tactic the Wildcats used in practice toward the end of the season to toughen themselves, and not whining or being babied on the court.

    “”Toughness mostly just comes within, and I think coach O’Neill is going to really help us get that toughness,”” Budinger said.

    In preparing for next season, Budinger’s main goal is to add some bulk, which he will try to accomplish through daily workouts with his trainer, Trent Suzuki, after spending presession in Tucson working out with the team. He will also attend some basketball camps where other top players compete.

    Budinger said midway through the season his body “”kind of hit a wall,”” so he hopes the work in the weight room will improve his endurance throughout the year.

    “”I kind of know what I need to do now after playing a season of college basketball,”” Budinger said. “”I know how the season goes, how long the season is and how I need to keep my body in shape throughout the year.””

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