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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    It’s still hoops when it’s all said and done

    Its still hoops when its all said and done

    Soulja Roy

    At his inaugural press conference as temporary heir to Lute Olson, UA interim head coach Russ Pennell approached the program’s complicated situation with a rather simple philosophy: At the end of the day, it’s still the game of basketball.

    As the dust settles on all the twists and sudden changes preceding the tip-off to this year’s 2008-09 campaign, it’s hard to completely focus on the one principle this team can still live by: it’s still basketball.

    Granted, suddenly losing a Hall of Fame legend wouldn’t be easy for any team of any sport, but as Pennell said, he doesn’t think the Wildcats have lost their desire to play the game of basketball.

    Because either way, whether it’s Olson’s signature suit roaming the sidelines or a fresh new assistant coach, both basketball rims will still stand at 10 feet this entire season. And with or without Jeff Withey, the scoreboard will still countdown from two 20-minute halves.

    In the end, it’s still basketball.

    Nobody can deny the national championship-caliber fantasy of a starting five that consisted of Brandon Jennings, Jerryd Bayless, Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill and Withey – all under Olson’s regime. That’s four probable first-round NBA Draft picks, with standout point guard Nic Wise coming off the comfortable bench.

    It’s even a bit shady that UA associate head coach Mike Dunlap didn’t inherit the responsibilities, a possibility that was assumed by many, considering his ranking in Olson’s coaching staff – second-in-command.

    But at this point, 13 days away from tip-off, all the what-ifs and has-beens need to disappear and the team must focus on sudden reality.

    On the surface, reality may seem harsh or unwarranted, but really, it has just shortened the Wildcats’ room for error in terms of luxury off the bench.

    It’s a tight leash, but Arizona still boasts arguably the top big man in the Pacific 10 Conference in Hill, along with a potential first-round draft choice in Budinger.

    Beyond that, a bevy of untried freshmen are eager to prove their roles alongside a healthy Wise. Things could be a lot worse, and the sky is certainly not falling at the moment. (See: Hoosiers, Indiana.)

    Players and coaches agree: Teams like UCLA, Kansas and Gonzaga aren’t competing with sympathy after Tucson got “”rocked to the core”” following Olson’s departure.

    “”I said, ‘Gentlemen, we’re in the same boat here,'”” Pennell said at his press conference, recalling a meeting with the players. “”‘All we have is each other, and we’ve got to get through this.

    “”We’re in this thing together, and yes, it’s not easy right now, but you’ve got two choices: you can give up or you can fight.’ And I’m not going to let them give up.””

    The dim light pioneering the way came from Saturday’s Red/Blue intrasquad scrimmage. Although it was shortened due to a lack of depth and injury, freshmen like Garland Judkins and Kyle Fogg left Pennell impressed after the first-time players ran through a full-court, game-like scenario.

    After the scrimmage, Budinger and Fogg made it known that Pennell has given specific roles to all players on the team. From a captain-like figure such as Budinger, from whom Pennell wants 40 percent of shots to come, to a freshman like Fogg, who didn’t try to do too much, the players know each individual role, none of which have really changed drastically since the beginning of the year.

    It’s the unproven players like Judkins and Fogg that must excel in their given roles to fill the void left from departed recruits if the Wildcats want to succeed.

    Everybody knows the story: Five-star standout Brandon Jennings and four-star recruits Emmanuel Negedu and Jeff Withey have already called it quits, leaving a relatively unknown class of 2009 down to just four players.

    But in today’s era of the selfish, high-profile recruiting landscape that the college basketball world has evolved into, maybe it’s a blessing in disguise, as Arizona now finds itself with raw talent, sans the egos of a nationally-recognized recruiting class.

    They’re now fighting to earn respect, as oppose to years past, when Arizona fought to maintain respect.

    But no matter how many changes the Wildcats have endured during the off-season, the bottom line remains as this: It’s still five guys versus five other guys.

    It’s still basketball.

    – Bryan Roy is a journalism

    sophomore. He can be reached

    at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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