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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    ‘Cats dealt unexpected hand of freshmen

    D.J. Shumpert loves watching game film. His favorite game is on DVD: UA’s win over Kentucky to capture the national title in 1997.

    A week after the fall semester began, Shumpert, a 6-foot-8-inch Tucson native, was granted a scholarship from the Arizona men’s basketball team -ÿsomething that was nearly unrealistic for the Wildcat history buff just months before.

    “”It’s an honor,”” Shumpert said. “”Every kid grows up in Tucson wishing to play for the U of A, and I’m just blessed to have the opportunity.””

    The opportunity came in the wake of a rare series of events.

    The Wildcats were supposed to have a top-10 freshman class this season. It was a stellar group composed of quickness, skill, size and athleticism.

    There was Brandon Jennings, a flashy point guard who was named the Naismith Player of the Year for his senior campaign in high school, and a three-star shooting guard from Phoenix, Brendon Lavender, a good shooter with a great team mentality.

    Four-star recruits Emmanuel Negedu was a 6-foot-6-inch, 225-pound forward who could bring the Wildcats strength in the paint, and Jeff Withey was a 7-footer, who could bang around in the paint and had a good jumpshot from 15 feet out, despite being underweight.

    But Jennings went pro in Europe, Negedu was granted a release from his Letter of Intent and went to Tennessee and Withy requested a transfer just days before Arizona’s Red/Blue intrasquad scrimmage game. Only Lavender was left.

    Quickly, the UA coaches added Shumpert, a no-start recruit, Kyle Fogg (three stars, May 19) and Garland Judkins (three stars, July 12).

    Throw in redshirt freshman Alex Jacobson in the mix, and Lute Olson knew the season would require some adaptation with so many youngsters.

    “”I think it is because of the number of freshmen and the number of sophomores as well,”” Olson said two days before he retired, referring to the eight underclassmen on the team. “”It’s going to be a huge challenge.””

    Quickly, UA interim head coach Russ Pennell has learned that this team cannot be compared to the players on Shumpert’s DVD.

    “”I don’t want to lift up the teams of the past and say, ‘Measure up to these guys,'”” Pennell said.

    The Wildcats will have to create their own success with the abundance of youth they have this season this season. Fogg and Judkins have already played large roles in exhibition games, with each picking up a start.

    “”Kyle Fogg is one of those guys who coaches dream about from the standpoint – he tries to do everything you ask him to do exactly right,”” said UA interim head coach Russ Pennell. “”When a guy does that, you have an obligation to give him a chance.””

    As for Judkins. the interim coach said he’d love for the freshman to fill the role as the backup point guard on the team, though he must learn to value the ball more and not be so reckless.

    Judkins saw the most action of the freshmen over the two exhibition games, playing a total of 39 minutes, followed by Lavender (26 minutes), Jacobson (22), Fogg (18) and Shumpert (2).

    Jacobson, a 6-foot-11-inch, 253-pound center, said he worked out in the weight room all last season and in the offseason, so he’ll be ready for this year physically. The hardest part, he said, will be adjusting mentally.

    “”(Last season) was very hard on me mentally, because basically you could do the greatest thing in the world, and you won’t get credit for it,”” Jacobson said. “”You could have a month of great practices, and you know you’re not going to play. It was just really hard.””

    But with only 12 active roster players, there’s no doubt the younger players will be asked to step up and play big roles this season in the quest to create their very own championship DVD.

    “”We have to find out what works best for us,”” Pennell said. “”We have a young team and we can’t get away from that. That’s just who we are.””

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