Forward’s return would be a key for Cats
Lute Olson is back, Jerryd Bayless is gone, Kevin O’Neill’s contract situation is unresolved, and there is still at least one more big transaction to come.
Chase Budinger: Staying or going?
With everything else swirling around, Budinger, a 6-foot-7 forward with two years of eligibility left, now seems to hold the keys to the program’s success next season.
No pressure or anything.
As it is, the Wildcats, without Bayless, are back in the position of being thin on the perimeter and not having enough scoring punch off the bench.
Without Budinger? Ugh. Do you really want to think about that?
At least UA can compensate, somewhat, for the loss of Bayless. Arizona has junior-to-be Nic Wise and incoming freshman Brandon Jennings, Parade Magazine’s national player of the year.
The two point guards can find a way to co-exist – and thrive – in the same backcourt.
It would not be so easy for Arizona to replace Budinger, who averaged 17.1 points and 5.4 rebounds as a sophomore. There isn’t a ready-to-go replacement on the roster.
Jamelle Horne and Fendi Onobun have small forward height and power forward games.
The projected lineup without Budinger:
Jennings, Wise, Horne, junior post player Jordan Hill and freshman center Jeff Withey.
That starting lineup leaves a bench of Onobun and freshman Emmanuel Negedu at forward, freshman Brendon Lavender and sophomore Zane Johnson at guard, and redshirt freshman Alex Jacobsen at center.
That bench has combined to score a mere 126 points at Arizona – 112 from Onobun, who will be a senior.
Of course, UA now has two scholarships available, three if Budinger leaves, so Olson and the staff could pick up some help for the 2008-09 season.
But with Budinger, that help becomes less crucial.
With him, Olson can put three shooters on the court, clearing space for the big men and making teams pay for too much defensive attention in any one area.
Without him . . . well, we saw this season how tough it was for Arizona when injuries left the team without enough scorers.
Perhaps this is all something for Budinger to consider, but he just needs to do what is right for him. He’s a first-round pick, although far from the lottery lock he was a few months ago.
I figure it’s probably a better business decision for Budinger to return to school and raise his stock to previous levels. I’m not counting on any romanticized version of college basketball and Arizona to bring him back.
I remember sitting in McKale Center after practice with Marcus Williams during his freshman season. At the time he was being compared to Sean Elliott, and Williams talked about how nice it would be to leave a legacy in a basketball city as Elliott did.
Instead, Williams’ legacy was that he was not a well-liked teammate who left after two years to be a second-round draft pick, scrapping all season just to get on the end of an NBA bench.
If only because of the length of his stay, Bayless doesn’t leave much of a legacy, either. The freshman was the key cog in getting Arizona to its 24th consecutive NCAA Tournament.
Thanks for that. Otherwise, most will want to forget this season.
Some draft projections have Bayless going third in the draft – a little too optimistic in my estimation, considering that assumes he goes before Stanford 7-footer Brook Lopez – but a top 10 pick is reasonable.
Bayless has no shortage of things to work on as an NBA point guard, but he’s a serious young man on the court who was going to get better next season, wherever he was. Might as well get paid while doing it.
It’s as O’Neill, the interim head coach during Bayless’ impressive freshman season, said: “If you are a top 10 pick, it’s pretty hard to improve your stock, to be honest with you.”
So he’s gone.
If he had stayed, he would have been the clear leader for the 2008-09 Cats. They would have been set up for a good chase for the Pac-10 title and a long NCAA Tournament run.
The job of leader is not a role that appears to suit the more laid-back Budinger. That’s OK. Olson can deal with that problem later.
For now, Arizona just needs Budinger back.
He’s the last bit of next year’s team margin of error.
Where Jerryd Bayless and Chase Budinger are projected in the draft (lottery picks are Nos. 1-14):
Draft Express No. 3 No. 14
ESPN.com No. 5 No. 13
Hoops Hype No. 3 No. 14
Insidehoops.com No. 4 No. 29
NBAdraft.net No. 4 Not listed
My NBAdraft.com No. 4 No. 13
Collegehoopsnet.com No. 7 Not listed