A list of ten guys to keep an eye on around the Pac-10, in no particular order (not including Huskies). The season officially got underway on Wednesday as UCLA crushed Prairie View A&M 82-58. The Dawgs kick off their season tomorrow with a matchup against the University of Portland.
1. James Harden, G, Arizona State. The 6’4″ sophomore turned down the chance to be a first-round pick in the ’08 NBA Draft and instead opted to return to Tempe for a second season. A left-hander with solid range on his jumper, Harden (pictured left) truly excels when attacking the rim and creating off the dribble. At 218 pounds, his plus size combined with above-average quickness makes Harden, an All-Pac 10 First Team selection a year ago, easily one of the frontrunners for Pac-10 Player of the Year. 2007-2008 stats: 17.8 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.1 SPG.
2. Darren Collison, G, UCLA. Another in a line of players who turned down the lure of the NBA to return to campus, Collison is now a senior and the unquestioned leader of the Bruins as they look to return yet again to the Final Four. At 6’0″, 160 pounds, the lithe point guard boasts exceptional quickness and complements his offensive abilities with a pesky presence on the defensive end. He kicked off the year with 19 points in the Bruins’ victorious opener over Prairie View on Wednesday, then followed that up with 16 points against Miami of Ohio last night. 2007-2008 stats: 14.5 PPG, 3.8 APG, 1.8 SPG.
3. Chase Budinger, F, Arizona. The Wildcats explosive swingman may end up regretting his decision to stay in Tucson with the departure of Head Coach Lute Olson. A 6’7″ junior, Budinger possesses extreme athletic ability and, at one time, was considered an Olympic-caliber volleyball player. Along with F Jordan Hill and G Nic Wise, Budinger comprises the core of the ‘Cats offense and will be relied upon to play almost every game start to finish. 2007-2008 stats: 17.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG.
4. Theo Robertson, G, California. An athletic 6’6″ swingman, Robertson (pictured right) missed all of the 2007-2008 season following hip surgery. The redshirt junior logged extensive playing time during his sophomore campaign in the ’06-’07 season, and opened up this season with 29 points in the Golden Bears’ exhibition victory over Seattle Pacific University. With All-Pac-10 First-Teamer Ryan Anderson now in the NBA, Robertson, along with fellow guard Patrick Christopher, should become the focal point of an offense that will struggle to put up points. 2006-2007 stats: 8.6 PPG, 4.4 RPG.
5. Michael Dunigan, C, Oregon. Dunigan is one of a host of players who has a legitimate shot at taking home Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honors this season. A 6’10”, 250 pound freshman who possesses size and skill around the basket, Dunigan is a four-star recruit who played at the same high school (Farragut Academy in Chicago, IL) as Kevin Garnett. With only one legitimate offensive threat returning for the Ducks (G Tajuan Porter), look for the offense to flow through Dunigan as the season gets underway.
6. DeMar Derozan, F, USC. Were it not for the NBA’s age-limit rule, Derozan wouldn’t even be on the USC campus right now. Considered the #1 small forward of the 2008 class, Derozan possesses remarkable explosive athleticism and should be a more-than-adequate replacement for the departed OJ Mayo. Already being compared to the likes of Kobe Bryant, Derozan will team up with junior Taj Gibson to lead the Trojan offense. On an interesting side note, he committed to USC as part of a package deal that also brought in friend and high school teammate Percy Miller, better known as the son of rapper Master P. and a rapper himself, Lil’ Romeo.
7. DeAngelo Casto, F, Washington State. Many locals may remember Casto (pictured left) from his days at Spokane’s Ferris High School. The 6’8″, 230 pound freshman should have an immediate impact on the Cougar offense with the departure of team’s big three: Kyle Weaver, Robbie Cowgill, and Derrick Low. With deferent senior Taylor Rochestie running the offense, look for Casto to patrol the interior in coach Tony Bennett’s offense and provide a complement to center Aron Baynes.
8. Jrue Holiday, G, UCLA. The consensus #1 point guard in the 2008 class, Holiday is the younger brother of UW sophomore guard Justin Holiday. With a quick first-step and superior ball-handling skills, the younger Holiday should fill the void left by guard Russell Westbrook’s departure to the NBA. In teaming up with fellow point guard Darren Collison, the 6’3″ 180-pounder combines to form arguably the most athletic backcourt in the Pac-10. Look for Holiday to spell Collison at the point and provide another scoring threat to go along with the likes of Josh Shipp.
9. Jordan Hill, F/C, Arizona. The 6’10” junior picked up his game remarkably a year ago, nearly tripling his scoring output from year 1 to year 2. Hill also became a staple on highlight reels nationwide with his emphatic shot-blocking abilities as Arizona stampeded to the NCAA tournament for a 17th consecutive time. Hill will be counted on to up that production yet again this season, as the Wildcats look to fill the scoring void left by Jerryd Bayless’ departure to the NBA and cope in the aftermath of coach Lute Olson’s abrupt retirement. 2007-2008 stats: 13.2 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 1.6 BPG.
10. Jeff Pendergraph, F, Arizona State. A 6’9″ senior, Pendergraph (pictured right) has made slight improvements to his game in each of the past three seasons. An All-Pac-10 Third Team selection a year ago, Pendergraph will need to break out in his final collegiate season if he wants to make it to the next level. With substantial athleticism and an affinity to dunk every ball he can get his hands on, Pendergraph will need to take some of the pressure off James Harden, whose production slowed as the year wore on, in order for the Sun Devils to live up to their early hype. 2007-2008 stats: 12.4 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 1.6 BPG.