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College Basketball - Pac-10 Season Preview

By Alan Rubenstein
Wednesday, November 27th, 2002
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The Pac-10 enters the 2002-03 season at a crossroads with the losses of Oregon shooting guard Freddie Jones, UCLA C-F Dan Gadzuric, Cal PG Shantay Legans who transferred to Fresno State, and Stanford's Curtis Borchardt and Casey Jacobson, who gave up their final year of eligibility to enter the NBA draft.

Leadership will be extremely important in this season's conference championship race. Lute Olson of Arizona, Mike Montgomery of Stanford, and Ben Braun of Cal were all quoted discussing the importance of leadership at the Pac-10's media day. "The formula in this league has been senior/junior leadership," Montgomery mentioned.

Arizona is the prohibitive favorite to win its tenth Pac-10 title in 18 years. The Wildcats return virtually intact from 2002, finding themselves in a similar position to the dawning of the 2000-01 season. Naismith and Wooden Award candidates Jason Gardner and Luke Walton lead the returnees. The leadership provided by Gardner, Walton, and fellow senior Rick Anderson will be a key development in the Wildcats' season.

"The experience is so vital to us, just as it was a year ago. I don't think it's possible to be a really good team unless you've got great upper class leadership," Olson said.

The Wildcats' strength lies on the perimeter -- in order to live up to their high national ranking, Arizona is going to have to get tougher inside. Sophomores Channing Frye and Isaiah Fox will team to manage the Wildcats' post game. Olson has been very encouraged with Frye's progress in the weight room this summer, saying, "(Channing) is a whole lot stronger."

Few teams can match Lute Olson's squad on the perimeter. Freshman guards Chris Rodgers and Hassan Adams and freshman forward Andre Igoudala will join returning starters Gardner and Salim Stoudamire in addition to Will Bynum. Anderson, an outstanding outside shooter, can step out on the perimeter and play either the two or three. He is playing out of position at the four, his most natural position being small forward.

The Wildcats face a daunting early season schedule. Four out of their first six games will be against teams that played in last season's NCAA Tournament. The opener will welcome probable lottery pick Chris Marcus and Western Kentucky to the McKale center.

Oregon followed up their surprise run to the Pac-10 Championship with a number two seed in the Midwest region and their first trip to a regional final since 1960 before losing to Kansas. In addition to Jones, Chris Christopherson, and reserve guard Anthony Level also departed the Ducks.

Oregon coach Ernie Kent is confident his team can stay atop the Pac. "We feel like we're going to be just as talented in the areas like shooting the ball. We are a faster team than we were last year."

The return of "Two-Hand Luke" (Luke Ridnour and Luke Jackson) gives the Ducks one of the best tandems in the conference, if not the entire country. The two Lukes led the high-flying Ducks to a 26-9 record in 2002 while averaging 85.5 points per game to lead the Pac-10.

Up front, the Ducks will count on seniors Brian Helquist and Robert Johnson. Jackson will likely see time at small forward, unless the Ducks use a three-guard lineup. Highly-touted freshman guard Brandon Lincoln will challenge junior James Davis for the final starting spot. The Ducks' upgraded schedule includes Cincinnati, Kansas, and Minnesota.

UCLA enters the 2002-03 season hoping to use the momentum gained in last season's NCAA tournament toward becoming a more consistent team this season. The Bruins pulled off one of the biggest upsets in last season's NCAA Tournament when they knocked off number one seed Cincinnati 105-101 in double overtime.

The losses of center Dan Gadzuric, forward Matt Barnes, and guard Billy Knight will give Cedric Bozeman, Dijon Thompson, and T.J. Cummings a chance to shine. This year's team will belong to senior Jason Kapono, who can light it up with the best in college basketball. The addition of Penn State transfer Jon Crispin greatly improves UCLA's depth and ability to shoot the ball from the perimeter.

"Overall, I like our team's depth. We're a very long, athletic team and shoot the ball very well," observed UCLA head coach Steve Lavin.

Cummings is the only natural post player the Bruins have in the starting lineup. Lavin will need a strong contribution off the bench inside. The likely candidate is 6-7, 235 pound forward Josiah Johnson. Former McDonald's All-American Ray Young and Ryan Walcott will also see plenty of minutes off the bench. The Bruins opened the season with a visit from the University of San Diego on November 26th and matchup with Duke in the Wooden Tradition in Indianapolis and host Kansas and St. John's later in the season.

Stanford begins the 2002-03 season in the unaccustomed position of having lost players early to the NBA draft. Casey Jacobson and Curtis Borchardt both relinquished their senior seasons to cash in on the riches of the NBA.

"We're in kind of a tough stretch with our basketball team. I think we'll be fine in time," Montgomery said.

Senior point guard Julius Barnes hopes to lead the Cardnial to their eighth consecutive NCAA Tournament. Barnes and dophomore Josh Childress will be counted on to lead the Stanford offensive attack.

"Julius Barnes and Josh Childress will have to have big games for us. They'll have to be consistently good and knock down open shots," Montgomery said.

Stanford opened the season in the preseason NIT with a visit from Boston University. Teyo Johnson and Justin Davis also return the Cardinal to provide rebounding and interior defense.

"We had three guys that were the cornerstone of USC basketball that are gone," was USC head coach Henry Bibby's reaction when asked about the departure of David Bluthenthal, Sam Clancy, and Brandon Granville. Desmond Farmer and Jerry Dupree showed flashes of the future in Pac-10 tournament last season. Errick Craven had a terrific freshman campaign averaging 12.1 ppg, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.3 steals. Craven's brother, Derrick, should join him in the backcourt and 6-11 sophomore Ryan O'Neill will provide the Trojans with size.

Trying to rebound from a tough loss to North Carolina-Wilmington in the NCAA Tournament first round, USC opened the season November 22nd against California-Riverside and will have non-conference games that include Rhode Island and Missouri.

"Every year, the expectation is to make to the NCAA tournament," says fourth-year Arizona State headman Rob Evans on his team's goals for this season. Unable to overcome a rash of injuries last season, the Sun Devils will be a much deeper team in 2002-03. Freshman Ike Diogu and Serge Angonou will push for starting sports. Junior college transfer Jamal Hill will also challenge for playing time.

According to Evans, "Diogu is a big-time talent he can help us inside or move out to the perimeter and shoot from three-point range, run the floor well, and block shorts."

Guards Jason Braxton and Curtis Millage will man the Sun Devil backcourt with a year of playing together. Forwards Tommie Smith and Donnell Knight enter their senior seasons as the starting forwards. The Sun Devils opened the season against Kentucky in the Maui Invitational and have a December road trip to Salt Lake City to face the always-tough Utah Utes.

One of dix Pac-10 teams to qualify for the Big Dance last season, the California Golden Bears enter the 2002-03 season with some uncertainty. The loss of Legans, who transferred to Fresno State, will press former walk-on A.J. Diggs into the starting role. As with most of the Pac-10, the Golden Bears will be a perimeter-oriented team. Led by Diggs, Joe Shipp, Brian Wethers, and Donte' Smith, and the addition of highly-recruited guard Richard Midgley, Cal will have excellent depth and athleticism outside. Smith and Midgley are both sidelined with quadricep injuries, however. Smith will be out until January, and Midgley's status for the beginning of the season is uncertain.

The return of Gabriel Hughes was very important for the Bears' frontcourt. Hughes and Amit Tamir are the only experienced post players in Berkeley. Tamir is a dangerous player who can score on the blocks, or step out and hit the three. Tamir dropped 39 points, including 6-of-8 from three-point range in a win over Oregon last season. 6-10 Spanish import Jordi Geli Villardell will provide some much needed depth for the Bears.

An rarely season goal for Braun will be developing a backup point guard for Gill until Smith and Midgley return. Cal opened at the Pit in Albuquerque against New Mexico and have non-conference games with Kansas at Oakland Arena and against Georgia in the Wooden Classic at Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim.

Washington, Oregon State, and Washington State will battle for the last spot in the Pac-10 conference. The Beavers and Huskies both welcome new coaches. Lorenzo Romar takes the helm at his alma mater Washington, while Jay John will try to revive Oregon State after assisting Lute Olson for many years at Arizona.

Brian Jackson, Jimmie Haywood, and Phillip Ricci are talented, experienced seniors who give the give the Beavers a chance to be the surprise team in the Pac-10 this season. John brought in highly-regarded freshman point guard Lamar Hurd and vows to speed things up this year.

"The whole intention when I received this job was to speed things up," said John. The Beavers opened the season November 23rd against Idaho and have a December trip to Kansas State.

Romar will likely build his team around junior Doug Wrenn, who is second among Pac-10 returnees in scoring. With 75% of the UW being underclassman, Wrenn and senior Marlon Shelton will provide the Huskies with leadership. Romar will emphasize defense in his maiden season in Seattle.

"When you talk about our style, it starts with a hard-nosed defense. If we could run the ball up the floor all game without running a half court offense, that would be our preference." The Huskies opened the season with a visit from Montana State.

Lastly, Washington State hopes to rebuild after disastrous 2002-03 season that saw the Cougars finish 6-21 overall and 1-17 in the Pac-Ten. Junior point guard Marcus Jones shows promise after averaging 16.6 point per game as a sophomore. Enjoy the year in the Pac-10!

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