O'Neill whipping Arizona into shape
Granted, it was just one team practice on Saturday for two hours, but it was enough for Lute Olson to feel like this Arizona team will be better than last year's disappointment.
"There should be more expected out of this group than last year's," said Olson as he made his way to watch Brandon Jennings at Oak Hill Academy (Va.). Jennings has made a verbal commitment to Arizona.
Saturday was the first day teams were allowed to hold a full team practice for two hours a week. This rule was put into place to help out quarter-system schools that were already behind semester schools in individual workout times.
"The biggest problem last year was with Kirk Walters out [concussion] and Jawann McClellan limited [various ailments] to what he could do, we started two freshmen and a sophomore," Olson said. "This year will be more veteran."
Getting rid of Marcus Williams, who chose to enter the NBA draft and was eventually San Antonio's second-round pick, helps. Losing the hard-working but at times erratic Ivan Radenovic and Mustafa Shakur won't hurt that much.
The addition of highly touted guard Jerryd Bayless, a supposedly healthy McClellan, a more committed defender Chase Budinger and a potentially disruptive defensive inside presence in Jordan Hill, gives the Wildcats a lot more hope. So, too, does the return of Walters, who received a sixth-year of eligibility. There are plenty of quality role players on this roster, too, like Nic Wise, Fendi Onubun, Mohamed Tangara, Bret Brielmaier and Daniel Dillon. It certainly helps that Olson brought in assistant Kevin O'Neill to whip everyone into shape and get them to be committed to the defensive end.
"He's been working with them from a conditioning standpoint, and his presence as a disciplinarian goes a long way in conditioning," Olson said of O'Neill. "Chase is a lot stronger and better conditioned. He has worked hard in the offseason."
The Wildcats play a very tough schedule, one of the toughest in the country. But Olson is convinced this squad can handle it. The expectation is to compete for the Pac-10 title, and if you listen to the staff and noted optimist Josh Pastner, this squad should be ranked no lower than No. 15.
• Brandon Rush said Tuesday that he's starting to do some cutting and coming off screens during individual workouts. The Kansas guard is still recovering from ACL surgery last June. He said he doesn't have a timetable yet for his return. KU coach Bill Self had projected Dec. 1 as the return date, but Brandon Rush said they haven't given him one as of yet.
As for the rest of the squad, both Brandon Rush and senior guard Russell Robinson said that Darrell Arthur is just "dunking on people," and Brandon Rush added that Arthur "has that mentality that no one can stop him."
Robinson said he's using this pre-preseason time to work on his leadership skills since he knows he'll have to be more assertive while Brandon Rush is rehabbing. One sleeper player that doesn't get a lot of talk on KU's roster is Roderick Stewart. What it's worth, the fifth-year senior has been a pleasant surprise to Robinson. Stewart still may have trouble getting on the court with Robinson, Mario Chalmers and Sherron Collins and Brandon Rush (when he returns) ahead of him. But if Stewart is playing well early, he might get a longer look.
• Duquesne coach Ron Everhart was back at work Monday after having part of his colon removed due to a recurring problem with diverticulitis. It's a similar procedure that Self endured a few years back. "I just didn't want this to occur during the season to where I would have to miss a game," Everhart said. "That's why I took care of it now."
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