Whenever Salim Stoudamire, the Wildcats' recovering 'tude-aholic, falls off the wagon and pouts during practice, assistant coach Rodney Tention goes into his routine. He reaches into his pocket, pulls out the pacifier he borrowed from his infant son and offers it to the junior guard who may be the most enigmatic talent in college basketball.
Need proof? Two months after Stoudamire's 32-point tour de force in a win at Kansas last January, he sulked through a 78-75 loss to the Jayhawks in the West Regional final, scoring four points on just four shots. "The difference in the two Kansas games was Salim," says coach Lute Olson. "It's about controlling his emotions. I've told him, 'For us to be a decent team this year, we need you to be consistent.' He's our best defender, he's the best shooter we've had since Steve Kerr, and he's very tough going to the bucket. But he's been his own worst enemy." Olson sighs. "Really, it's up to him."
Stoudamire says he's a changed man, one who has the chops to fill the leadership vacuum created by the departures of Luke Walton, Jason Gardner and Rick Anderson. "I've got to focus on being a leader," he says. "It's hard, because when things aren't going my way I tend to have a scowl on my face and get down on myself. If I'm positive, then I'm capable of doing good things consistently. I think I'm maturing a lot."
That's imperative because, in addition to having no senior starters, this team has a freshman point guard ( Mustafa Shakur). Arizona also has a 6'4" power forward (sophomore Hassan Adams), which means the starting five is exceptionally quick but frighteningly small. (It's no wonder that Olson has been experimenting with "four-out" attacks and the frenetic secondary break popularized by Roy Williams at Kansas.)
Nobody denies that Arizona, with the nimble post play of junior center Channing Frye and the athleticism of Adams and sophomore forward Andre Iguodala, has the most talent in the Pac-10. But their fate will depend on whether Stoudamire, their best player, lives up to his word.
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