With sports presently at a halt due to coronavirus concerns, let’s dip into the past for a moment. If you could pick five current or former Arizona Wildcats and create a starting lineup, who would you choose?
We asked our staff members that question, and here is what they had to say.
This is always a bittersweet exercise for me. I’ll start with the sweet. It’s sweet because it’s a reminder of the abundance of talent that has passed through the University of Arizona. It’s bitter because there’s only one championship to show for it.
Obviously one is better than none in this case. However, it just turns into a real head-scratcher plus it reopens the “what-if” wounds. This was intended to be a fun offseason exercise so let me liven the mood:
PG: T.J. McConnell — I have to put T.J. in this starting five because I still get chills thinking about him kissing the court on his senior night and crying in the arms of Sean Miller after the Wildcats were defeated by Wisconsin in the Elite Eight for the second-straight year.
Not only did he possess the high IQ, ball-handling ability and defensive prowl Arizona hasn’t had in at least three years, he also possessed leadership and heart. It just feels wrong to leave him off the list.
SG: Miles Simon — I was torn between Simon and Salim Stoudamire for this spot. If you think Stoudamire deserves the nod, I won’t argue. He was arguably the best three-point shooter the program has ever seen and he was essential to a stretch of four seasons that finished 102-31.
However, I felt obligated to apply more weight to Simon’s overall achievements as he earned the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player in 1997 and got the team across the finish line!
SF: Sean Elliott — This is probably the easiest decision of the starting five. In my opinion, Elliott is the greatest player to ever wear the uniform. He is still the all-time leading scorer in program history despite concluding over 30 seasons since his departure. He was also a major reason Lute Olson turned things around at Arizona and reached their first ever Final Four.
PF: Derrick Williams — The talent of Williams was simply a matchup nightmare and Sean Miller deserves a lot of credit for the way he used Williams in the 2010-11 season. His ability to stretch the floor and rebound was very difficult to defend.
His performance in the 2011 Sweet 16 game against Duke is singlehandedly the reason Arizona advanced the the Elite Eight and frankly optimizes my point of being a matchup nightmare.
C: Deandre Ayton — This selection was just as much of a no brainer as Sean Elliott. Although Ayton only played one season at Arizona, he was virtually unstoppable and something unlike college basketball has seen in a while.
To me, this is such an interesting debate because there are really so many way you can go about selecting an all-time Arizona basketball starting five.
If you wanted, you could try to find the five guys at each position who had the best statistical collegiate careers and choose them. Or, if you wanted to go a different route, you could pick the Wildcats who went on to have the best careers in the NBA. Hell, you could even go with the entire starting five from the 1996-1997 championship season and nobody would be too mad.
I used those three things as the criteria to select my team, and I tried to have a team that had a balance of each.
PG: Mike Bibby — With absolutely no disrespect at all to Damon Stoudamire, Jason Gardner, and others, I’m going with Bibby as my all-time Arizona point guard.
The second pick in the 1998 NBA Draft, Bibby ran the point as true-freshman for the Wildcats when the program won its lone National Championship in the 1996-1997 season, and that’s more than enough for me to merit his selection over a plethora of PGs who are worthy of making this team.
Bibby averaged 15.4 points and 5.5 assists in two seasons in Tucson and won Pac-10 Rookie of the Year as a freshman, Pac-10 Player of the Year in 97-98 as a sophomore and was a consensus All-American too.
He also had a long NBA career — not every great Wildcat can say that — which only adds to his resume. More than anything though, it’s the natty that puts Bibby on this team.
SG: Salim Stoudamire — Salim narrowly edges out Jason Terry, Gilbert Arenas and Khalid Reeves as my selection for Arizona’s all-time shooting guard.
Statistically he has the numbers to merit selection — he’s fourth on Arizona’s all-time scoring list with 1,960 points, and was a career .458 three-point shooter as a Wildcat, including a senior season in which he shot .504 on 238 attempts from beyond the arc. HE is still the program’s leader in career threes.
But more than anything, Salim is on this team because he was one of the most clutch players in program history. His shots against UCLA and Oklahoma State alone merit selection.
Terry could have easily gotten the nod, but my logic was that he would be Arizona’s all-time sixth man. Something just tells me he wouldn’t have minded coming off the bench.
SF: Sean Elliott — Of all the positions for this squad, small forward is probably the easiest to pick. That’s because Sean Elliott is widely considered the best player in program history.
Elliott is not only Arizona’s all-time leading scorer with 2,555 points and the only Wildcat to ever win the Wooden Award, but he led the UA to its first ever Final Four as well. He went on to have a long and successful NBA career and has to be a lock for any all-time Arizona team.
PF: Bob Elliott — I promise you that nobody loves Derrick Williams more than me — the 2010-2011 team is still my favorite Arizona squad of all-time — but the pre-Lute Olson era deserves some recognition too.
The 6-foot-9-inch Elliott averaged 18.7 points and 9.5 rebounds per-game during his four years in Tucson (1973-1977), including a sophomore year in which he scored 23.5 PPG.
He averaged a double-double as both a freshman and a junior, and is still second all-time in the program’s career scoring and rebounding list with 2,131 points and 1,083 rebounds respectively. Williams might have had the best season ever for an Arizona power-forward, but I think it’s fair to insert Bob here based on his career stats.
The afro he’s sporting in the picture on his sports reference page was worth some points with me as well.
C: Deandre Ayton — I really wanted to select Channing Frye here, but when you look at statistics, Deandre has to be at the center spot for this all-time team. The numbers he put up in his lone season at Arizona (20.1 points per game, 11.6 rebounds per game, 61% field goal percentage and 24 double-doubles) are simply astounding.
Being the only No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft in program history has to count for something too.
PG: Mike Bibby — Ignoring the fact that Bibby and I went to the same high school (go Matadors!), the only point guard to lead Arizona to a national title gets the nod. It’s a high honor, though, because they don’t call it “Point Guard U” for nothing. The Wildcats have had better passers as well as better scorers, but Bibby’s well-rounded game and leadership qualities make him the choice.
SG: Salim Stoudamire — Pretty much as soon as Salim crossed midcourt he was in range. Really, he was Steph Curry before Steph Curry. It’s easy to forget just how great Stoudamire was because he did not have much of an NBA career, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a better shooter in Arizona’s history. Oh, and that he didn’t get the last shot in that terrible game vs. Illinois is a travesty.
SF: Sean Elliott — A Pac-10 Freshman of the Year and two-time consensus All-American, Elliott helped Arizona get to a Final Four and won the Wooden Award as a senior. One of the first stars to be produced by Lute Olson, Elliott helped set the stage for what would become Arizona basketball.
PF: Derrick Williams — This position is a bit tricky, but Williams gets the nod because he was just so good as a sophomore. Perhaps the best player in college basketball that season, he nearly led a good-but-not-great Arizona team to the Final Four. His performance during the entire tournament will go down in history as one of the program’s best, and what he did to demolish Duke (32 points, 13 rebounds) will always bring a smile to our faces.
C: Deandre Ayton — This was an easy choice. Nevermind that Ayton did not have any tournament success, the guy was simply a monster in his lone season in Tucson. He averaged 20.1 points and 11.6 rebounds en route to collecting both the conference Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year awards and went on to become the first No. 1 overall pick in Arizona history.
PG: Damon Stoudamire — One of the forefathers of Point Guard U, Mighty Mouse laid the foundations for Arizona’s success in the 1990s. Stoudamire led the Wildcats to a Final Four as a junior, then as a senior earned All-American honors by averaging 22.8 points per game. He holds the school record for most career three-pointers made (272) and was the 1995 Pac-10 Player of the Year.
SG: Jason Terry — Terry elevated Arizona basketball to new heights with his all-around guard play and unmatched swagger. A sixth man through his first three years of college, Terry carved out a role as a premier scorer/stealer. When he finally got his time to shine as a senior, Terry won Pac-10 Player of the Year by leading the conference in scoring, steals and assists.
SF: Sean Elliott — Arguably the greatest Wildcat of them all, Elliott was a force as soon as he stepped on campus. The Tucson native won Pac-10 Freshman of the Year and kept improving every season after. As a senior, he averaged 22.3 points and 7.2 rebounds per game and shot over 50% from three-point range.
PF: Derrick Williams — Williams’ first-half buzzer beating three-pointer against Duke in the 2011 Sweet Sixteen will go down as one of the defining plays of the Sean Miller era in my mind. That shot unleashed a legendary second half from Williams and the Wildcats and inked D-Will’s name as an all-time great. Williams averaged 19.5 points and 8.3 rebounds as a sophomore on his way to earning Pac-10 Player of the Year honors.
C: Deandre Ayton — The most highly touted recruit to ever sign with Arizona, Ayton lived up to the hype in his lone year on campus. He posted 24 double-doubles in 34 games including a 19-rebound performance versus ASU. Ayton will be the most talked about Wildcat for years to come.