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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Senior big men enter season worlds apart

    Senior forward Ivan Radenovic
    Senior forward Ivan Radenovic

    With their heads rising above their teammates and the general population, Arizona’s two senior big men share the simple trait of having impressive height.

    But that is about all they have in common.

    For the 6-foot-10 forward from Belgrade, Serbia, and the 6-foot-11 center from Grand Rapids, Mich., the journey to play basketball at Arizona could hardly have been any different.

    While Walters, an outdoorsman from the Midwest, was recruited out of high school in the United States, Radenovic was recruited from Eastern Europe and didn’t come to Tucson until midway through his freshman season.

    Walters’ first impression of Radenovic had nothing to do with Radenovic’s skill around the basket, his ability to go inside and out or the potential that he would go on to be one of Arizona’s go-to guys.

    “”First impression had to be the dress,”” Walters joked.

    “”I think it was (former UA walk-on) Beau (Muhlbach), who said something about his pants. He said, ‘Man those pants are tight, they look like some wranglers’ because he was straight-up European when he came over, and slowly he’s adapted to the United States and our culture, but he’s come a long ways being better and better at English and just our style of play.””

    On the court, Radenovic would beat himself up after a bad play.

    “”When he would get mad, he would just start saying stuff in Serbian, you would have no idea what’s going on,”” said Walters, who said he didn’t try too hard to pick up Serbian. “”Something real intense would happen, and he would just go off in some phrase in Serbian.””

    Meanwhile, Radenovic noticed Walters’ athleticism, something he had not seen playing in Europe.

    A tale of two big men

    Ivan Radenovic

    • Senior forward

  • Belgrade, Serbia
  • 2003-04: 5.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg, .397 shooting percentage
  • 2004-05: 8.6 ppg, 5.5 rbg, .455 shooting percentage
  • 2005-06: 12.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg, .461 shooting percentage
      Kirk Walters
  • Senior center
  • Grand Rapids, Mich.
  • 2003-04: 0.9 ppg, 0.8 rbg, .250 shooting percentage
  • 2004-05: 2.4 ppg, 1.4 rbg, .548 shooting percentage
  • 2005-06: 6.1 ppg, 3.5 rbg, .586 shooting percentage
  • “”Just tall athletic guy,”” Radenovic said. “”I didn’t believe white guys can jump that high and be as explosive as Kirk is.””

    Radenovic is more outspoken, verbally leading on the court, and Walters is more reserved, preferring to stay more in the background.

    Radenovic’s improvement was rapid. He contributed right away, averaging just under six points per game in his freshman season and increasing his scoring average in each of his three seasons, scoring 13.3 points per game last year as a junior.

    Walters’ improvement has been slower. After an unimpressive freshman season, when the skinny, then-210-pounder saw little court time, Walters was in the midst of redshirting his sophomore season when he got the word from UA head coach Lute Olson that his services were needed.

    Walters was put into the rotation 15 games in.

    In his junior year, Walters started nine of the first 10 games before being relegated to the bench, until he was re-inserted back into the starting lineup when graduated senior Chris Rodgers was dismissed from the team.

    Prior to this season, Walters missed more than a month with a concussion, including the first exhibition game, and he is still trying to get back into basketball shape as Olson has decided to go with a smaller starting lineup.

    “”We want to get him healthy, not just from a basketball standpoint, because I know that’s a tough situation to go through,”” forward Marcus Williams said.

    But while Walters has struggled with many obstacles, Radenovic has thrived, earning honorable mention All-Pacific 10 Conference honors last year.

    “”I think he had a great year last year,”” Olson said. “”His freshman year was a struggle, being in a foreign country, learning the language.

    “”It would not be a very fun thing to come out every day against Andre Iguodala or Hassan Adams. You play against those guys and you have to learn to shoot and duck at the same time. By the next year, he had made good adjustments to that.””

    When Radenovic and Walters are on the court together, each brings a different type of game to the table.

    “”They’re total opposites,”” Williams said. “”Ivan likes to step out and (causes) mismatch problems, and Kirk is obviously more of an inside post player.””

    Radenovic has noticed Walters’ gradual improvement as well as his added 45 pounds of bulk.

    “”He just got better,”” Radenovic said. “”He was just a shy little kid when I first came here, and then from year to year he got better, he got bigger and he played good basketball.””

    Though both players were unknown commodities, Radenovic was more of an unknown at the beginning of his career.

    But with Walters being behind in terms of game shape, he has become the unknown quantity to Arizona’s season. The Wildcats may need him to make an impact down low, defensively at least, if they expect to make a run to the Final Four.

    “”We’re going to face some teams where we need Kirk more than the usual when it’s not just a small lineup,”” point guard Mustafa Shakur said. “”We’re going to need him a lot because he’s a big force behind who can block shots.””

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