Citizen Staff Writer
ARIZONA WILDCATS BASKETBALL
As the final seconds ran off the clock, Nic Wise darted courtside to give a couple of ex-Wildcats a hug.
Wise, right after the horn sounded on Saturday’s 84-72 victory over UCLA at McKale Center, embraced Jason Terry and Jerryd Bayless, both of whom used to do what Wise is doing now – running the Wildcats with style.
“Nic Wise is making great decisions,” Terry said as he made he way through the crowd after the game, signing shirts, headbands, tote bags, whatever still-adoring fans put in front of him.
“You know, in the history of Arizona, the point guard is the leader of the team, and he is a prime example. He does everything, defensively and offensively, to dictate the tempo of the game.
“I love him, man, because he plays like I played – with his heart.”
Terry, who wore his heart on his sleeve and his socks to his knees, remembers looking courtside when he was a sophomore and seeing one of his predecessors – Damon Stoudamire.
That’s the thing at Arizona, the thing that was most evident on Saturday. The beat goes on . . . and on . . . and on . . .
Traditions, new and old, were on display, including the best dang crowd in the Pac-10. The combination of the size of the McKale Center and the support of the community still blows away the rest of the league, even as the Cats transition to a different era.
“There is something about the history here and the brotherhood,” said Terry, who plays for the Dallas Mavericks. “It’s like big brother is watching.”
On Saturday, Papa Lute was watching, too, from the stands.
The Wildcats did not disappoint their elders, winning their seventh consecutive game, emphatically ending an eight-game losing streak to the Bruins, and beginning to make something of a cult hero out of interim head coach Russ Pennell, who would much prefer to take it one game at a time and stay under the radar.
Those have been two of his favorite phrases in recent weeks.
Sorry, Russ, you now have your own special sliver of Arizona history and tradition that won’t soon by forgotten.
He gets two thumbs up for coming up with an idea about three days before the game, borrowing something Ole Miss did when he was an assistant there to Rob Evans, who later would coach Arizona State. (Imagine that, getting a good idea from a Sun Devil.)
Pennell had the players enter the court by walking down through the student section, creating an even more buzz-worthy atmosphere.
Before that happened, Pennell let Terry and Bayless talk to the team.
“The big thing they talked about is that this is a great time of life,” Pennell said. “They had great words of, ‘Enjoy this, it will be gone too quick.’ ”
So, too, will Pennell, whose primary résumé gap – can he recruit at an elite level? – means he can’t be a serious contender for the job after the season. That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy this moment, enjoy the team that won’t shave, enjoy him.
Pennell is part of the tradition, now.
“Joseph Blair came by the other day. Ben Davis came by the other day. Steve Kerr has called,” said Pennell, rattling off a trio of ex-Wildcats who have been in contact with him recently.
“From time to time, guys will drop an e-mail or a phone call or something, just saying, ‘Hey, I appreciate what you’re doing. It’s been fun watching.’ . . . You know what it means to them.
“It’s humbling, it really is. But it speaks volumes of their love of Arizona and their trust of Lute Olson that he would hire people that they would approve of.”
Speaking of Olson, Pennell says he is in contact with the Hall of Fame coach, who has become a regular in the stands at McKale Center.
“He doesn’t call and talk about ball, but we do talk periodically,” Pennell said.
“He’s happy to see us having success, and that’s what he always says. He always says, ‘I’m proud of you, great job.’ He’s too much of a gentleman to do anything else.
“I think he obviously misses coaching, but I think he also is really proud of the guys.”
In that regard, Olson, who is one of a kind in Arizona history, has a whole city’s worth of company.
Anthony Gimino’s e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
A Wise guy: Ex-Cat Terry heaps praise on UA guard