Grade Expectations

A Mid-Season Report Card For This Year's Cardiac Cats

By Tom Danehy

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS ago, back when half of Tucson's current population was still freezing their butts off in suburban Chicago, the University of Arizona men's basketball team was a collection of young, talented ballplayers whose narrow escapes and exciting play earned them the nickname of Cardiac Cats.

A lot has changed over the past quarter-century. Tucson first became enraptured with the Fred Snowden Show in the latter '70s, suffered through the bottoming-out of the Ben Lindsey one-year era, then hitched its star to Lute Olson, who has pretty much kept Arizona in the national limelight for 15 straight years.

Danehy But after Final Four appearances in 1988, '94 and '98, and a national championship in '97, Arizona basketball finds itself in a funny place--it's like Cardiac Cats, Part Zwei.

After Miles Simon, Mike Bibby and Michael Dickerson went off to the not-so-green-after-all pastures of the NBA, Arizona knew it faced an interesting year. That situation was exacerbated by the fact that Donnell Harris' career went up in, well, you know, smoke.

And interesting it has been. After a pair of one-point games with (always) rival ASU and usedta-wuz rival New Mexico last week, the exasperating/ exhilarating Cats stand at 12-2 on the season, just on the edge of the Top 10 in the country, and in good position to pick up a No. 2 or 3 seed come NCAA Tournament time.

Momentum is a wonderful thing, and part of Arizona's lofty rankings may be due more to reputation than actual on-court success this year. But, that reputation was hard-earned over many years, and if this year's whiz kids can get the testing under fire and maintain a high national ranking at the same time, there's no harm done.

So how are they doing at the midpoint of the regular season? Here's our mid-term report card, and unlike the clod who leaked Mile Simon's grade a couple years back, this is perfectly legal.

Jason Terry...Senior...Leads the Pac-10 in scoring, steals, free-throw shooting, and bad socks...Playing almost 38 minutes per game...Usually money from the free-throw line (85 percent), but bricked two biggies at ASU...Made clutch potential game-winning shot at New Mexico with four seconds left, only to see Lobos score at the other end at the buzzer...Showing real team leadership after serving his time behind Simon and Bibby.

Grade: A-

A.J. Bramlett...Senior...Pulling down more than 10 rebounds per game...Shooting almost 55 percent from the field...Also playing high number of minutes (32/game)...Could probably be more of a defensive presence, although he does have 20 blocked shots...Made nifty reverse lay-up against New Mexico in his hometown of Albuquerque. Grade: B+

Richard Jefferson...Freshman...Ah, youth...Jefferson sometimes plays ball like Sean Elliott, other times like Sean Connery...Maddeningly inconsistent, but appears to have the tools for greatness...Scored 25 against USC, but then only three against New Mexico. Grade: B-

Michael Wright... Freshman... Played 34 big minutes against New Mexico and pulled down 17 huge rebounds... Sometimes seems like a man among boys...Great shooting percentage, second-leading rebounder and third-leading scorer on the squad...Definitely the Real Deal. Grade: A-

Ruben Douglas... Freshman...See Richard Jefferson...Sometimes seems unable to throw a marble in the ocean if he were standing in the surf, other times exhibits the shooting stroke for the ages...3-pt. shooting percentage lower than approval rating for Congressional Republicans... Getting plenty of PT (18 min/game)... Needs to relax. Grade: B-

Traves Wilson...Freshman... Actually playing more than Douglas, though shooting about the same...Third on team in steals, but only sixth in assists...Part of a freshman class which could wreak havoc in Pac-10 for next few years. Grade: B-

Eugene Edgerson...Junior...Worst hairdo by a Cat player since Tom Tolbert...Wearing Jud Buechler's shoes, but not pulling down Jud Buechler rebounds...Earned money last summer dancing in that Disco Lives CD commercial (just kidding)... Averaging around five points and five boards per game...Needs to be nastier than his barber. Grade: B-

Justin Wessel...Sophomore...Quite possibly the goofiest white person in America, and that includes Pee Wee Herman and Michael Jackson...Grew up in Iowa or on Mars...Stands 6-foot-8, but all that does is make him seem even goofier...Frightening stat: He has attempted eight three-pointers...Has more assists than guard Traves Wilson. Grade: B

John Ash...Redshirt Sophomore... Saw playing time on national championship team in '97, now fighting for minutes against tough freshmen...Shooting 50 percent from the field, 50 percent from the 3-point line, and (alas) only 50 percent from the free-throw line...Lives with Justin Wessel, which might explain the FT percentage...Subs in for Jason Terry, who almost never comes out...Nice tan. Grade: A+

Josh Pastner...Already-Graduated Junior...Industrial-strength showoff...Took 45 units last semester...Currently working on three Master's degrees, a Ph.D, learning to speak Esperanto, and taking a pottery class in his spare time...Not surprisingly, has played in only one game this season. Grade: A TW

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