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19 Arizona
Albert Lin
November 19, 2001
These Wildcats are young, but they've proved they're ready for the big time
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November 19, 2001

19 Arizona

These Wildcats are young, but they've proved they're ready for the big time

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STARTING LINEUP

POS.

PLAYER

HT.

CL.

KEY STAT

SF

Rick Anderson

6'9"

Jr.

4.5 ppg*

PF

Luke Walton

6'8"

Jr.

3.9 rpg

C

Isaiah Fox

6'9"

Fr.

12.0 rpg?

SG

Will Bynum

5'10"

Fr.

27.0 ppg?

PG

Jason Gardner#

5'10"

Jr.

4.1 apg

2000-01 record: 28-8
Final rank (coaches' poll):No. 2
#Returning starter
*Redshirted (stats for 1999-2000)
As high school senior

On Aug. 21, in the early-morning hours following a long first day of school, the members of Arizona's gem of a recruiting class decided to sneak into the McKale Center and have an impromptu shootaround. Grabbing some basketballs, the five freshmen began to talk about the upcoming season and the expectation that the Wildcats might be in for a tough time, having lost four starters (three with eligibility remaining) to the NBA draft. "We should be ranked," said Dennis Latimore, a 6'8" forward. "I can't wait to prove everybody wrong," chimed in Will Bynum, a 5'10" guard. It didn't take them long. Last week Arizona, with only two players who saw significant action on last season's team that went to the NCAA title game, upset a pair of Top 10 teams, Maryland and Florida.

It took two seemingly unrelated events on March 29, 1983, for this team to come together. The first was the introduction that day of Lute Olson, then 48 years old, as the Wildcats' new coach. Shortly thereafter, five miles away at the Tucson Medical Center, eight-pound, 15-ounce Isaiah Philip-Francis Fox was born to Nils Fox, an offensive lineman on the Arizona football team, and his then wife, Michelle. Eighteen years, 447 wins and one national championship later, Olson is a coaching legend, and little Isaiah Fox—who timed his arrival to Olson's, not emerging until three days after Michelle's water broke—has grown into the Wildcats' 6'9", 265-pound freshman starting center.

While it might seem that Fox was destined to play for Olson, it almost didn't happen. In October 2000 Arizona secured an oral commitment from Rick Rickert, a forward from Duluth, Minn., considered one of the top 10 players in the country, as its fifth and final recruit. Fox was left to choose between California and Connecticut. But Rickert changed his mind, and on Nov. 13 he instead signed with Minnesota. Fox had his scholarship. "I had to take a couple of deep breaths when I got the news," he says. Since arriving on campus in August, he has dropped 21 pounds and earned the starting job by being the team's top re-bounder in practice. "He has impressed us more than we might have expected," Olson says of the least heralded of his newcomers. Joining Fox in the starting lineup is his roommate, Bynum, who scored 16 points in the upset of Florida. Salim Stoudamire, another Arizona legacy (he's the cousin of former All-America Damon), comes off the bench and is the Wildcats' best on-the-ball defender. Latimore and Channing Frye are frontline reinforcements.

As good as the freshmen already are, Arizona's fortunes rest largely on the play of its three juniors. Jason Gardner flirted briefly with the NBA, but he's back and played 79 out of 80 minutes in the two wins last week, totaling 46 points and nine assists. Luke Walton fills in whatever gaps arise. ("I laugh at people who say he's a role player," says Florida coach Billy Donovan.) And Rick Anderson, who redshirted last season, is the Wildcats' top outside shooter; he scored Arizona's final three buckets in the 75-71 upset of Florida.

Arizona will no longer surprise opponents. That's fine with the freshmen. "We look at this as just the beginning," says Fox.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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