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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Cats want a championship – to get there, they’ll need leaders”

    Ryan Caseyassistant sports editor
    Ryan Casey
    assistant sports editor

    How important is leadership?

    In the case of the Arizona men’s basketball team, championship hopes may depend upon it.

    “”To have great leadership, you can’t just talk about it,”” said UA assistant coach Josh Pastner. “”It has to actually be done by actions and examples and following through in what you’re believing in.

    “”We talk about winning a Pac-10 Championship, winning a national championship, but that can’t be done if we don’t have super leadership,”” he added. “”If we have super leadership, the final score will take care of itself.””

    This season, Arizona has a trio of seasoned veteran leaders in point guard Mustafa Shakur, forward Ivan Radenovic and center Kirk Walters, each of whom are entering their fourth and final seasons.

    But you’ve heard it before. Seniors on head coach Lute Olson’s teams at the UA are expected to be leaders.

    “”Obviously, as seniors, every year the seniors are supposed to be the leaders, captains of the team,”” Radenovic said. “”We’re on the same page.””

    So what makes this year’s group of seniors different from last year’s?

    Whereas last year’s trio of Hassan Adams, Chris Rodgers and Isaiah Fox slacked when it came to being a leader, this year, it’s not about auditioning for the NBA, and none of the three will distract with off-the-court issues. This year, the seniors will actually provide leadership.

    “”I think it is different,”” Shakur said, “”because the three seniors that are back are actually guys that are going to be out there and guys that are going to be consistent over time, (guys) that they’ve been here as far as team goes on and off the court.””

    “”People don’t understand how much freshmen, sophomores and juniors alike really look up to the upperclassmen …for that leadership,”” Shakur added. “”Because they’ve been here, they’ve been through every possible situation you can think of, the ups and the downs.””

    And it’s not just on-the-court stuff. As Radenovic said, it’s the “”leading by example, from the little things – taking care of your body, having the right diet, eating the right things – to waking up and getting early to bed and not drinking and that kind of stuff.””

    With a tough early-season schedule that includes games against Illinois, Louisville and No. 14 Memphis – and another tough tilt Jan. 27 at home against No. 2 North Carolina – the three seniors’ ability to lead will be magnified early on.

    “”We have so many tough teams (on the schedule), it’s going to be a grind of a season for us, but that’s a great chance to show what we’re all about and show what we can do,”” Walters said. “”I mean we’re going to have great competition this year, and for us seniors – we know we’re going to have other guys that are going to step up – but it’s got to start with us.””

    Though the sun’s just beginning to rise on the 2006-07 season, the trio’s leadership has already had a positive impact on all-important team chemistry.

    “”You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t have the chemistry, I mean, you’re sunk,”” Walters said. “”Our chemistry’s great right now. …Everyone has the same goals, the same idea, and it really just rolls along and turns into a great season.””

    When asked about the best senior leader they’d witnessed in their time as Wildcats, Shakur, Radenovic and Walters each mentioned former center Channing Frye, now with the New York Knicks.

    “”He always stayed positive,”” Shakur said. “”When things were bad my freshman year, he never once got on people or anything like that in a negative way. He always tried to pick guys up.””

    Frye was the guy who would call a freshman and see if he wanted to get a bite to eat, the guy whose ears were always open for questions about basketball in practice – or about life after it.

    “”Channing was all about team,”” Pastner said. “”Channing was all about winning. Channing was all about what is best for everybody involved, and he put himself kind of last in terms of what’s best for Channing.””

    But, Pastner added, the main thing Frye did was shoulder responsibility.

    “”He put himself first in terms of ‘I’ve got to walk the fine line. I’ve got to be at practice on time, get to class, do things the right way, be respectful in the community,'”” Pastner said. “”And that just transfers to everybody else.””

    They’re qualities that seem familiar in this year’s bunch.

    “”There’s been numerous times in practice where maybe one of the three (freshmen is) …not doing something right or not …understanding it,”” Pastner said, “”and the (seniors) are the first ones there.””

    “”You’ve got three guys that are just total gentlemen,”” Pastner added, “”and that’s a big thing.””

    Ryan Casey is a journalism senior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu

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