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With Gardner back, Arizona is (Wild)cat's meow


April 25
Jason Gardner has made a wise decision by saying no to the NBA and opting to return to Arizona. That announcement, along with Kansas forward Drew Gooden's decision to turn pro, led me to pick Arizona as my new preseason No. 1 (at first, Kansas was my choice).

Jason Gardner
Point guard Jason Gardner returns to guide Arizona's potent offense.
Can you imagine if Gardner went to the NBA now? Sure, he would have been fighting to make somebody's roster, but now he can return to sunny Tucson, Ariz. That had to bring a smile to coach Lute Olson's face, since the return of his point guard -- the maestro man for the solid Wildcats' offensive attack -- gives them tremendous leadership and quickness.

Look at Arizona's roster. The Wildcats will be stronger with another year of experience. Olson had several freshmen step in and contribute right away, so imagine how good guards Salim Stoudamire and Wil Bynum and big men Isaiah Fox and Channing Frye will be next season. They will be more consistent.

Then there's the frontcourt pair of Luke Walton and Rick Anderson. Walton is the premier passing big man in America, while Anderson provides tenacity and a spark. Frye also showed signs of brilliance last season.

The key may be the point guard, Gardner. Just look at what he meant to the 'Cats at the start of last season, after he opted to pull out of the NBA draft following his sophomore season. Arizona -- having lost Michael Wright, Loren Woods, Gilbert Arenas and Richard Jefferson -- shocked Florida and eventual national champion Maryland to win the Coaches vs. Cancer event. Gardner can penetrate, dish and score from outside. He led the 'Cats in scoring (20.5 ppg, second in the Pac-10) and was second on the team in assists (4.5 apg, second to Walton's 6.3).

Arizona has all the parts needed to win a national championship. Olson knows a lot about winning it all, since his team won the national title in Indianapolis in 1997. He has been to the Final Four five times (once at Iowa, four times at Arizona). He is a Hall of Fame-caliber coach (and has been nominated again this year).

Arizona has all the parts needed to win a championship.
This could be one of his best teams ever. There is versatility galore, and he has a solid recruiting class coming in, led by a pair of guards -- Hassan Adams of Los Angeles and Chris Rodgers of Portland, Ore.

Olson will be able to use a variety of lineups, depending on the opposition. He can match up with a bigger lineup or a smaller unit. It's going to be a big-time season for Arizona, clearly the favorite in the Pac-10 (on paper, anyway). But it won't be easy since Olson doesn't play too many cupcakes. The Pac-10 is a competitive conference.

Gardner made the right call, and Olson and company are happy to have him back. As you can see, the 'Cats are my preseason No. 1 for good reason.

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