Friday, January 4, 2008

An Open Plea to the U of A Men’s Basketball Team,

You keep us entertained, and we really appreciate it. You make the tournament every year and not too long ago made it all the way to the Elite 8 and were a few minutes away from yet another Final Four. These are the things that excite people about college basketball season. And U of A is one of the Premier programs. This year, I’m not gonna lie you are playing incredible basketball, at times (ex. Kansas), unfortunately teams like Memphis and UCLA are just a little bit stronger, and that’s ok. You guys are young. Budinger, Wise, Hill ... you're all Sophomores, yet you combined for 57 of the team’s 76 points, 23 of the team’s 30 boards and 11 of the team’s 16 assists in last night's contest.

Nic Wise, you came into last season as a very highly touted Freshman product who looked to help the team by learning and taking over the Point position. Unfortunately you came in a little overweight and overwhelmed and really never hit any kind of stride, averaging just over 8 minutes and under 2 points per game. You slimmed down a little bit going into this season and have finally hit a serious stride. You have put up 50 points in the last 4 games replacing the injured Freshman standout Jarryd Bayless in the last two. Even more amazing is that the numbers don’t tell the whole story. For those of us who watched last night’s game, the Wildcats were sluggish at first and were losing at the half. You were the only reason Zona was close at half and put the team in play to win that game. At one point in the game the touted 2006-2007 Pac-10 Freshman of the year (Chase Budinger) was 1-9 from the field, yet Arizona was still in the game. Every time the Kitty Kats needed a boost there you were with one of your many reverse/spectacular/acrobatic layups under the hoop or the perfectly timed trey-ball. Basically Wise, you were unstoppable last night.

Jordan Hill, you're good. I mean you're really good. And the scary thing is, you've actually gotten better seemingly by the week. Since last season you have doubled your minutes and rebounds, tripled yours points and cut down a little bit on fouls (though you still needs to work on it). In the first six games of the season you averaged a little over 4 boards and about 11 points per game. In the last seven games you've averaged about 16 and a half points and 10 and a half boards. You also managed to cut down on fouls, and conversely added quality defense and minutes to go along with it. And you didn’t even pick up a basketball until your Junior Year of High School, you're getting better, and will continue to do so.

Chase Budinger, you're an incredible athletic talent whose numbers have slightly increased over a very nice Freshman year. You decided to stick around instead of go in the draft (many thought you could have been a late 1st/early 2nd round guy). If you continue at the pace you're at now (with increased defensive attention given to you since people know just how good you are) there is no doubt that you can be a 1st rounder next year. But you came to Arizona, like many of the past, present, and future Cats, to learn from and play for Lute. Coach O’ Neil is doing an extraordinary job stepping in where he didn’t know he was going to. Well you have gotten better this year and were great last year. But like I said, you came to play for Olson, who comes back next year. Next year will be a very good year for you if you stay.

So what’s the point of this U of A love-fest? It’s simple, to Misters Budinger, Hill, and Wise, stick around another year, your classes aren’t that hard (we all know this), college is free, college life is always a blast (most of us know this) and the girls in Tucson are damn fine. I realize I’m asking you to give up on some serious cash flow, but you’re gonna get it either way, so why not stick around another year. If you still (which you should) have that serious competitive drive that got you to start playing ball and continue into college then you should want to win the National Championship. I’m talking to you too Bayless, you’re good at the point but you’re a better off-guard and we all know this. Imagine next year:

Not having to force (signed recruit, top PG prospect in the nation) Brandon Jennings into immediate action. Wise at point, Bayless at his natural off guard position, Budinger playing the 3, and Hill locking down the inside alongside a freshmen rotation of Emmanuel Negedu and Jeff Withey. Your lineup would have Jennings, the top incoming point guard in the country, as a 6th man, coming in resting Wise, Bayless, and Budinger and learning the offense and doing some serious damage to opposing defenses with those 6th man energy surges. By March this could be either Jennings or most likely Wise, coming in with those energetic surges the likes of which aren’t all that common in the NCAA ranks. Unfortunately you guys are losing Dillon (defensive specialist and damn nice guy) Brielmeyer (big body, bigger heart) McClellan (Senior leader) and Kirk Walters (a.k.a. Big Nasty prior to all the health problems) That’s a core of the team that’s been around well almost as long as I have been in Tucson. You four were there for that Elite Eight run, and you know what I'm talking about. You guys are going on to bigger and better things and we hate to lose such quality role players like you guys, but to lose one or two or more of these young Sophomore talents, who can stick around longer, it’s back to the middle of the Pac again.

Look at what the Cats did back in that ill-fated Elite Eight run a few years back Salim Staudamire, Channing Frye, Hassan Adams, and Sleepy Staf were running that team. Two seniors, Salim (Heart) and Frye (Soul) were the major leaders with Hassan (Intensity) helping out. Staf did an amazing job as a Sophomore running the point and the rotation of Ivan, Walters, or Rodgers, filling in well. They lost in the Elite Eight. The year before when those guys were all a year younger, the best player on that team was a sophomore from Springfield, IL. Andre Iguodala. In Iggy’s sophomore season his teammates (Channing, Salim, Staf, and Hassan) all had to grow, which they did by the 2005 Madness. If that team would have still had Iggy in T-Town, there is not doubt in my mind the Kitty Kats would have won another title.

The same will hold true for this team. I hate to break it to you but you aren’t winning the National Championship this year. If Budinger/Bayless/Hill leave then you definitely aren’t winning next year either. But maybe with another year of maturity, and some outstanding Freshman talent, a big body or bodies inside to help out Hill, Lute back on the sidelines, and Coach O refocusing on continuing to build up the defense (which he has done an incredible job of this year for the most part), this team has a serious shot.

So this is an open plea to you, the Arizona Wildcats Men’s Basketball team. Listen and learn from O’Neil this year. Build upon that success, get bigger, stronger, faster, better in the off-season. Let the Freshman next year ease into the game without the pressure that Bayless had to go through this year. Most importantly though. Stay another year. UA needs to win a title in something other than Softball, I need one of my teams to win a title in something other than Softball, Lute needs to win another title before his retirement. These can all be accomplished next season with the right attitude, chemistry, and most importantly, roster.