EDITOR NOTE: AllSportsTucson.com will run a feature this basketball season highlighting what happened 20 years ago on that particular day commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Arizona Wildcats’ national championship. The first installment is what occurred and what was written concerning the developments of Oct. 14, 1996. The information gathered is through articles written by beat reporters Steve Rivera (Tucson Citizen) and Javier Morales (Arizona Daily Star), who now are working together for AllSportsTucson.com
DATELINE: October 14, 1996, McKale Center …
Arizona’s basketball media day took place today at McKale Center. A year ago, many college basketball magazines and pollsters didn’t think the the Wildcats had the manpower or the talent to crack their respective Top 25 rankings.
That held true when the 1995-96 preseason polls came out and the Wildcats weren’t in the Top 25 for the first time since the beginning of the 1987-88 season. Neve rmind that last year’s team featured five seniors and an array of talent.
Fast forward to this season and Arizona has a bevy of underclassmen, mainly unproven freshmen, and little-used sophomores. Yet, everyone seems to think Arizona is good enough to be in their top 20.
”That’s real weird,” Arizona’s Michael Dickerson said of the past two years. ”I just don’t understand that. Maybe because we’ve got (freshman) Mike Bibby on our team. I just hope we can live up to the high expectations.”
Arizona coach Lute Olson rarely worries about expectations, perhaps because he has always had them at Arizona. But Olson doesn’t find it ironic that this year’s team – even with its youthfulness – is rated higher than last year’s eventual Sweet 16 team.
”There were probably some people that were awakened a little late last year . . . maybe,” Olson said of those who vote and write in the magazines. ”I’m not sure whether we deserved to be ranked in the Top 25, but I think it was a great embarrassment to people a year ago when it broke our string of being in the Top 25 and after the third week we were in the Top Five.
”But as I said before, the preseason doesn’t mean anything. Rankings are important to fans and preseason magazines. I understand that.”
— Steve Rivera
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Arizona opens practice for the 1996-97 season with these factors: No seniors; a highly-rated recruiting class of six players, including Mike Bibby; no bulk (A.J. Bramlett at 222 pounds is the heaviest player); and the untested leadership of Miles Simon and Michael Dickerson.
“The biggest questions I have is how are we going to handle big people, and how are we going to handle adversity,” UA assistant coach Jessie Evans said. “I’m anxious to watch the team evolve. Every team we have evolves into a top 20 team, and I’m anxious to see this team do the same thing.”
Lute Olson talked about his youthful team being “fun to watch and coach regardless if it’s a win or a loss.”
“The important thing is we can’t lose sight of the big picture,” said Olson, who is 508-193 in 23 years of coaching. “The big picture comes secondly in the league season, and thirdly, hopefully in the postseason.”
— Javier Morales
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Olson said it shouldn’t take him long – perhaps just before the Red-Blue Scrimmage on Nov. 1 – to have an idea of what the top rotations will be, even if there are plenty of personnel to deal with.
”Oftentimes if you get through two weeks of practice you get a pretty good feel for how that rotation is going to work,” Olson said. ”But because of the number of new guys, it may be that some combinations may be better for the new guys than other combinations. But in two weeks, I think we should have a pretty good feel for the way we want to go.” …
A reporter at media day asked Olson if he was concerned with having so many talented players on this year’s roster that they may become unhappy over a lack of playing time.
”That’s only been a factor since the game has started,” Olson said. ”Playing time is an issue, but what we’ve always tried to do is evaluate (situations). After we get through three weeks, they evaluate themselves and evaluate their teammates and I sit down with them. We discuss how we see them, how the staff sees them and discuss how their teammates see them.
”If somebody is 10th in the staff’s eyes, 10th in the players eyes and third in his own, then he’s got a problem. But we’re very quick to point that problem out and get it solved.”
Junior college player Bennett Davison was a late arrival to media day after arriving from a weekend trip home to California. Teammate and freshman Eugene Edgerson was a no-show for the event after his plane was fogged in in Houston. . . . Arizona’s Miles Simon sported a Darryl Strawberry New York Yankee T-shirt at the media day. Simon is Strawberry’s brother-in-law. Simon had been in Baltimore over the weekend watching Strawberry and the Yankees take the American League pennant.
Where the 1996-97 Arizona men’s basketball team is ranked in some preseason college basketball magazines:
Basketball Times: 13
Dick Vitale’s Top 40: 14
College Sports: 21
Sporting News: 23
— Steve Rivera
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