Player of the Year
For his scoring and other reasons, Arizona's Jason Terry is the pick
Early in his freshman season Arizona point guard Jason Terry paid a visit to a Tucson tattoo parlor. For half an hour he flipped through page after page of the usual designs—hearts, crosses, roses (yawn)—until his eyes fixed on the cartoon superhero Underdog. Perfect. "I wanted the tattoo to mean something," says Terry, showing off his Under-dogged left deltoid, "and that's how I feel every time I step on the court."
Before we explain why Terry, now a senior, has become the biggest superhero in college basketball, know this: He didn't start last season, and this year he wasn't even a third-team preseason All-America pick. There's more to his rise to prominence than his stats, too, although Terry was leading the Pac-10 in points (22.2 per game) and assists (5.6) through Sunday while almost single-handedly leading the No. 13 Wildcats to a 20-6 record.
The primary reason that Terry is SI's choice for player of the year is: No other player in the country is as crucial to his team's success. After backing up the departed Mike Bibby and Miles Simon for the past two years, Terry heads a starting lineup that includes three freshmen and senior A.J. Bramlett, a serviceable but hardly dominating center. Five of the Wildcats' top nine players are freshmen. "If Jason wasn't here, we'd be 10-14," says coach Lute Olson. "Given that he has so many inexperienced players around him, it's the best job I've ever had a point guard do in my 26 years in Division I." Keep in mind that Olson's alumni at the point include Bibby, Steve Kerr, Khalid Reeves and Damon Stoudamire.
Among the other top candidates, Connecticut's Richard Hamilton proved not to be indispensable; the Huskies won at Stanford without him. The same can be said of Duke's Elton Brand and Trajan Langdon; remove either of them from the lineup, and the Blue Devils would still be a top 5 team. Terry's closest rival is probably Utah point guard Andre Miller, who has also carried a rebuilding team to surprising heights, but Terry has better numbers than Miller (who averaged 16.0 points and 5-8 assists in the regular season) and plays in a far tougher conference. Besides, who would you want to take your last shot? Terry has given Arizona a tie or the lead in the last 10 seconds three times this season.
Terry used to be known best for his appearance. With his hangdog shorts and knee-high, four-ply tube socks, he shows less leg than an Amish grandmother. (Terry even slept in his get-up, shoes and all, the night before the last four games of Arizona's 1997 national championship run.) But this year he has demonstrated a game to match his fashion sense, having unveiled a lethal long-range jumper to go with his hyperquick penetration moves. "Anyone who tells you he could have foreseen Jason scoring this many points would be lying," says Ron Drayton, Terry's coach at Seattle's Franklin High, where Terry won two state titles but never averaged more than 17 points a game.
Terry says that as the season has wound down, he has kept track of Miller's exploits on the tube. And on the wall next to Terry's bed is a newspaper article with Miller's picture and the headline UTAH RUNS OVER ARIZONA, a reminder of the Utes' upset of the Wildcats in last year's West Regional final. "It's been up there since three days after the game," Terry says.
In lieu of a rematch on the floor, Terry has made do with a Sony PlayStation, to which he devotes at least 40 hours every week playing video games, including a college basketball game that features a pixel version of him starring for Arizona. "They made me real good on that game," he says. "I've got some moves and a nice little jump shot" The game, of course, was made before this season, meaning one thing: Its designers were the only ones who didn't underestimate the player of the year.
Samford Wins the Trans Am
The Princeton Of the South
Samford's second-year coach, Jimmy Tillette, has a passion for things classical. He named his son Tristan after the hero of Wagner's opera Tristan and Isolde. During practices and press conferences he quotes from philosophers such as Schopenhauer and Kant. He conducts meetings with players in his office while strains of Beethoven or Chopin play in the background.