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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Hoops building excitement

Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Wildcat

The Arizona Wildcats mens basketball team held its annual Red-Blue scrimmage Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010, in McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.
Mike Christy
Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Wildcat The Arizona Wildcats men’s basketball team held its annual Red-Blue scrimmage Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010, in McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.

Is it too early to call last weekend the renaissance of Arizona athletics?

The school’s 125th birthday bash witnessed a football romp against Washington, a basketball scrimmage which drew more than 10,000 fans and Richard Jefferson getting Iced at Frog & Firkin.

Those 10,000 fans outdid what every other Pac-10 school averages for their regular season attendance.

UA basketball coach Sean Miller began a 1 p.m. tipoff by congratulating the No. 15-ranked football team’s 6-1 start to the season. After the scrimmage, he all but used the word “”surprised”” to describe his reaction to the many fans who turned up for an early afternoon scrimmage following the football game that ended at 10:30 p.m.

“”I don’t want to use the word ‘surprised’ because I’m never surprised at the passion of our crowd, of what we have going here,”” Miller said. “”But watching that football game last night and seeing the team play the way we did with such a huge crowd … is amazing. It gave our players a great feel for what it was like to play with a big crowd.””

From a fan’s perspective, it’s tough to evaluate or take much away from a scrimmage, but Sunday’s line between theatrics and business provided the ideal spark for a preseason that could’ve easily been overshadowed by a football Rose Bowl run.

Of all guys, it was UA junior Brendon Lavender who became the crowd favorite after pulling off a cartwheel-to-roundoff backflip followed by a dunk with two cheerleaders at his side before the game.

He thought of it the night before. No practice. The last time he had done a backflip was two or three years ago.

Coach told him not to, but no worries.

“”Last night, just thinking about creative stuff to get the crowd on my side,”” Lavender said. “”I don’t think anyone’s every pulled cheerleaders on the floor with them. I’m 6-foot-4 so they don’t think I could do that stuff.

“”I just did it. If I was gonna be worried, I was gonna fall.””

After that, 10,675 fans stuck around to watch a glorified practice.

But why? Why the interest after a team coming off its longest offseason in decades? Attendance has always remained the Pac-10’s best even throughout the rocky Olson-O’Neill-Pennell transition. But what’s so special about this team?

For a roster with a depth chart that looks more like a scatter plot, how has this team outdone the Believe Campaign of 2009 — a season when no-name assistant Russ Pennell led a team to the Sweet 16?

“”People are saying this is one of the most favorite teams since 2002, 2003, so we have a lot to live up to,”” face-of-the-franchise Derrick Williams said. “”We’re going to be real good this year.””

It’s hard not to like times when Momo Jones nods his head with a smirk on his way back on defense.

It’s hard not to like the humbled, grounded and sometimes even shy Williams, letting the ball do the talking.

It’s hard not to like Lavender’s excitement after winning the dunk contest yet level-headed demeanor when asked the toughest question after the game: Do you think you’ll get much playing time this season?

“”I don’t know what Coach has in store, but I know everyday I’m working harder to help the team,”” Lavender said. “”Whatever I can do to help the team win.””

If winning is as contagious as it seems, they’re in good hands.

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