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yoco :: College Basketball
(a sports weblog) news and commentary on men's college basketball and the ncaa tournament

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Sunday, September 12, 2004

Salaam?

Has Salim Stoudamire made peace with himself? Arizona's on again, off again star guard was largely responsible for the 'Cats failings last season. Self-absorbed, Salim would pout after missed shots and errant passes. Rather than step up and lead a talented but young squad into the NCAA's upper echelon, Salim receded from the limelight.

Last November, Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl authored a column titled "One player's emotional readiness is the pivotal factor in the Wildcats' success." Indeed. An excerpt:

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."

Arizona's success was up to Salim -- and he flunked. During the 'Cats game against Liberty, Salim pouted often enough to warrant a recess on the bench. At key moments in conference games, he was all but invisible in team huddles. Assistant coach Rodney Tention became so frustrated with Salim's antics in practice that he developed a routine to mock Arizona's star. Whenever Salim sulked, Tention would pull out a pacifier borrowed from his infant son and offer it to Stoudamire.

Has Salim grown up? He grew a new afro, but did he mature during the off-season? Cousin Damon sure hopes so. From the July 1st edition of the Tucson Citizen, after a game between past and present Arizona stars:

Salim Stoudamire put on a show, throwing in 38 points as Damon continually found him wide on the perimeter. He also threw down a left-handed slam and made several highlight reel steals in the open court. "I've been trying to get him to do some things that people haven't seen around here lately," Damon said about Salim. "He has a lot of potential to do a lot of great things. He just needs to keep his mind right and get focused."

Has he kept his eyes on the prize during summer play? First, the not so great news, from early August and the Great Northwest Summer League:

For Salim Stoudamire, it's a chance to work on the little things before he returns to Tucson, Ariz. Same for Lee and Miles, who have to be back in Lawrence, Kan., next Tuesday. "You can come home and get some really good basketball in instead of just playing at the park," Lee said.

They could goof off and take 60 shots a game if they wanted. But [league founder Canaan] Chatman points out that he is in constant contact with the college coaches of all these players. If Lee and Miles decided to loaf, for example, Jayhawks coach Bill Self would hear about it.

That might explain Salim Stoudamire angrily slamming the ball to the court during his second game of the night, as he was playing alongside Lee and losing. It might be summer. It might be laid-back. It's also a little intense.

Second, a much, much better read, from a late August game in Tucson:

Stoudamire was as vocal as we’d ever heard him and he really does look like he is the one who wants to be seen as this team’s leader. Whereas last season he was content to dominate pickup games with a dozen or more threes and let everyone else fend for themselves, this year he’s encouraging teammates, congratulating them after good plays and throwing in his two cents-worth of advice.

There was one play where sophomore center Kirk Walters had the ball on a two-on-one fast break, hesitated, and wound up missing the basket, allowing the solitary defender to get the rebound and counter with his own fast break. When the ball went out of bounds Stoudamire sought Walters out.

"Kirk,” he said calmly, “We do two-on-ones in practice all the time. It’s the same thing here.”

About two minutes later Walters was grabbing his knees, clearly winded from the frenetic pace inherent in most pickup games. Stoudamire looked at him and said, “Kirk, I know you’re not tired yet.” The implication was clear: suck it up and keep runnin’.

Another of Stoudamire’s teachings came after Tangara missed a close-in shot in traffic, grabbed his own rebound, went up again and was fouled.

“You have to go up strong and dunk that,” he told the freshman.

[Miles] Simon left McKale a while before everyone else and left Stoudamire as the man in charge. What was a great sight to see was the senior All-American candidate walk over to every single one of his teammates – walk-ons and scholarship players alike – and tell them “good game” and remind them about Wednesday’s plans.

There are still three months until the season begins but at least it looks as if one major question mark has been answered thanks to Stoudamire’s new attitude and the way he has taken charge of the leadership role.

Phew. My enthusiasm for Salim's progress as reported, however, is tempered by the bias of the messenger, GoAZCats.com's Ben Hansen. My bet? Salim will be a much improved, if not ideal, leader. Fortunately, Hassan Adams will step up and assume leadership responsibilities as well. Even sans Andre Igoudala, this year's 'Cats will outperform last year's kittens.