Hoops team gets late addition

Lance Madden

The Arizona men’s basketball team got a late addition to its program for the upcoming season.

Former Santa Rita High School forward Darnell Shumpert accepted a scholarship offer from head coach Lute Olson yesterday. Last year’s UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill offered the 6-foot-7, 195-pounder a chance to walk onto the UA team last season, but he turned it down.

O’Neill didn’t return a phone call from the Daily Wildcat yesterday.

Shumpert will technically be a walk-on, but the Wildcats had two open scholarships to offer him. The Wildcat coaching staff asked Shumpert to walk onto the team early in the summer, but he wouldn’t do so without a scholarship, according to GOAZCATS.com.

“”When I go the scholarship offer I was ecstatic,”” Shumpert told GOAZCATS.com. “”I was doing back flips. They said they have a scholarship open and they needed some post helps so that’s what they wanted me for. I’m going to try and do whatever I can to help.””

Before the offer, the forward was previously trying to decide whether to go to Laurinburg Institute prep school in North Carolina or take an offer from Alabama-Birmingham, George Washington, Nevada-Las Vegas or Saint Mary’s in California.

Shumpert – who attended Sahuarita High School as a junior, then Santa Rita as a senior – will become the first recruited scholarship player from Tucson to play for Olson since Sunnyside’s Deron Johnson in 1991. He helped lead Santa Rita to back-to-back Class 4A Division II championship games in his senior year, averaging 11.1 points and 10.9 rebounds per game.

Santa Rita coach Jim Ferguson told the Tucson Citizen he received a call from UA assistant coach Russ Pennell on Monday.

“”He’s very excited,”” Ferguson told The Citizen. “”He’s going to have to go there and work hard, prove to them he’s worth being on scholarship. Coach Olson has said he has a huge upside. And it’s true.””

Ferguson did not return a call or e-mail from the Daily Wildcat at the time of publication.

Shumpert joins the 2008 class of center Jeff Withey, guards Brendon Lavender, Kyle Fogg and Garland Judkins.

The Wildcats lost two players from the recruiting class in Emmanuel Negedu, who asked out of his signed letter of intent to go to Tennessee, and Brandon Jennings, who opted to play professionally in Europe. Without these players turning their backs on the UA program, Shumpert wouldn’t have had his chance at getting a scholarship from the Wildcats.

“”It means everything,”” Shumpert told The Citizen. “”It’s tradition in Tucson and everyone in Tucson wishes they could play for the U of A. Now that I have the opportunity, I’m going to take full advantage of it.””