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July 8, 2013
A sneak peek into Arizona basketball's 2013-14 season has the countdown starting perhaps a little earlier than usual.
There is plenty of unknown ahead for the Wildcats, but the play of Aaron Gordon in the FIBA U19 World Championships has transformed some of that mystery into fervent anticipation.
Gordon's dynamic, all-around game earned him Most Valuable Player honors. On a team that also featured reigning Big 12 Conference Player of the Year Marcus Smart and Duke standout Rasheed Sulaimon, that's an especially noteworthy accomplishment.
Just how good is this freshman going to be? That is perhaps the question Wildcat fans are more eager than any other to have answered in the coming campaign.
Other Wildcat newcomers have been as highly touted; none have the same impressive resume before ever lacing up a pair of Nikes on the McKale Center hardwood. After all, Gordon was MVP of just the third gold medal-winning U19 team in the last 25 years.
There is no shortage of UA students and alumni who measure their college tenures in basketball seasons. My freshman year was one basketball season removed from the 2001 national championship game appearance.
The 2001-02 season began shrouded in mystery, but something about the unknown made it particularly exciting. Recently, speaking with another class of 2005 UA alum, we tried to quantify anticipation of the upcoming campaign; our freshmen year was the nearest parallel.
In that year, the program welcomed a raft of freshmen to replace the departing veterans. UA was unranked in the preseason, hardly the contender that most pundits believe next season's Wildcats to be.
However, the promise of newcomers make the two seasons similar. Twelve years ago, Lute Olson welcomed a highly touted recruiting class that included Salim Stoudamire - who laid the foundation for one the best careers in UA history that season.
Gordon may not have the four-year career ahead of him similar to that which Stoudamire embarked on as a freshman, but the forward's exhibition in Prague suggests he may carve his niche in other ways.
Other Wildcat teams entered the season with more unknowns than this current crop - a Sweet 16 team returning three starters is an increasingly infrequent luxury in today's landscape.
Still, NBA draft picks Solomon Hill and Grant Jerrett, starting point guard Mark Lyons and four-year stalwart Kevin Parrom are not easily replaced. When a replacement like Gordon comes along, though, the possibilities seem limitless.
GOAZCATS.com Staff Writer
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