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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


“Lights, Camera, Basketball! (w/ VIDEO)”

Kyle Fogg

The difference between media day 2008 and media day 2009 in the Arizona men’s basketball realm: everything, except the McKale Center roof.

Even the arena’s award banners are brand new.

Wednesday afternoon gave the media a first peek at the Wildcats and a chance to ask about the far-too-common theme of change within the program.

Brand new paint. Brand new court. Brand new players. Brand new coach.

Change has been the only constant the past three years. But the questions stay the same: How is this year’s regime different from last year’s?

“”Stability. Knowing we were going to have a coach on our sideline that he’s going to be there, and know that we’re going to have a coach to work out with, that’s a great feeling,”” UA junior Jamelle Horne said.

Last year, Lute Olson addressed the media for 40 minutes in the Losche Room. It felt more like 400 minutes, as the uncharacteristically soft-spoken Hall-of-Famer hardly seemed like the man who built Tucson.

A mere 48 hours later, Olson retired.

“”Oh man, it was crazy because this time last year — a couple days after, he was done,”” sophomore Brendon Lavender said. “”Last year I had no clue what I was going to get into. This year, I’m ready.””

Nobody needed to hear about the changes the Wildcats endured over the past year. It was too obvious. But those were the only questions to ask about a team that, aside from senior point guard Nic Wise, doesn’t have a depth chart.

Knowing the unpredicibility freshmen often bring — no matter how many stars — Miller wants nothing to do with the measuring stick that compares the Wildcats to years past.

“”It’s very important our program doesn’t ride the coattails of what happened here before,”” Miller said. “”I’ve really tried to take care of our program and build our own habits. This is a new season and beginning for everyone in the program.””

One thing does roll over like unused cell phone minutes: the streak of 25 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances — still the most coveted statistic in UA athletics.Continuing the streak looked unattainable before Miller brought in a top-15 incoming freshman class after just months on the job.

Now with five freshmen to fill out the roster, early preseason projections might suddenly put Arizona back in the NCAA Tournament bubble.

“”Because things have happened here in the past, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to continue,”” Miller said.

He couldn’t be bashing the streak, could he?

“”(The streak) is something that can really be damaging to this year’s team,”” Miller said.”” We want to create our own legacy. It’s clearly a time to move on for our program and it starts now.””

After just months, which he said have felt like two years, Miller has his brand-new canvas.

“”It’s fresh, man,”” Horne said. “”This year is just a totally different feeling and understanding of the game. We just start fresh.””

Added Miller: “”Every time that we do something it’s the first. Many times, you introduce the (practice) drill and everyone stands there and looks at you. They’ve never heard the name of the drill being called that.

“”I feel like I’ve been here for two years,”” Miller said. “”I feel like I’ve done everything but coach our basketball team. It’s been a long time coming.””

The new class clown

Horne, often regarded as the team’s funniest character, is grooming the future of comedy in the locker room.

It’s not a one-man show anymore.

“”You know, we actually got a few clowns,”” Horne said. “”You should check out No. 52, Max Wiepking. He seems like he doesn’t say anything, but he’ll get you if you turn your back.””

So is he the new David Bagga?

“”He’s new Bagga,”” Horne said. “”New Baggie.””

Wiepking, a walk-on from Englewood, Colo., is listed with a 6-foot-6 frame.

Look for “”Put in Wiep-king”” chants early on in the Zona Zoo.

“”I don’t know if I can compete with Jamelle,”” said Wiepking, who is roommates with freshman Kyryl Natyazhko. “”I just like to have a good time and hang out with the crowd.””

Does Wiepking know his expectations as the token underdog walk-on?

“”I’ve heard of (Bagga). I saw the shot against Stanford.””

Those are his expectations.

“”I’ll do my best,”” he said.

Video by Ben Feinberg / Arizona Daily Wildcat

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