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COLLEGE BASKETBALL 1996-97 | PACIFIC 10 PREVIEW

Chaotic Off-Season Leaves Some Teams Out of Control

November 20, 1996|TIM KAWAKAMI and GEORGE DOHRMANN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

In a whirlwind off-season of painful departures by players and coaches, things turned topsy-turvy in the Pacific 10, a once-stable conference.

Two of the league's tent-pole coaches--UCLA's Jim Harrick and California's Todd Bozeman--suddenly, and with ugly flourishes, are gone. So too are players Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Jelani Gardner, Reggie Geary, Mark Hendrickson, Dion Cross and Ron Riley.

Aside from perhaps Stanford, which has premier senior point guard Brevin Knight and a sound 7-foot-1 Tim Young at center, the Pac-10 is full of screaming question marks, leadership vacuums and untapped potential.

Which doesn't mean Stanford is the favorite to win the conference title.

"Everybody knows that everybody's coming back for UCLA," Washington State's Isaac Fontaine said.

There are contenders lined up, though, if the Bruins or the Cardinal should falter: Arizona, with old-guard Coach Lute Olson depending heavily on the talents of new guard Mike Bibby, and Washington, which jumped into the first division last season and has the size to scare anybody.

A look at the teams in the Pac-10 other than UCLA and USC:

ARIZONA

* 1995-96 records: 26-7 overall, 13-5 conference

* Conference finish: Second.

If there's a model for this young, fast and centerless Wildcat team, it's the Arizona team that marched to the Final Four three years ago, led by hyper-tempo guards Khalid Reeves and Damon Stoudamire, with support from the defensive-minded Geary.

Miles Simon and Michael Dickerson are proven scorers who like to stay outside the three-point arc and figure to combine for 30 or more points a game this season.

At least publicly, Olson isn't counting on Bibby, who scored 34.3 a game as a Phoenix prep star.

But if Arizona has any chance of masking its lack of a power inside game and making a conference title run, 6-2 freshman guard Bibby, the league's marquee newcomer and son of USC Coach Henry Bibby, is the wild card. Is he ready to produce a Stephon Marbury-type season?

ARIZONA STATE

* 1995-96 records: 11-16, 6-12.

* Conference finish: Eighth.

Eight seasons into his Sun Devil career, Bill Frieder has gotten all the pieces to fall into place once--the 1994-95 team that reached the NCAA tournament's round of 16. Returning to that level this season will be difficult.

Junior shooting guard Jeremy Veal, who averaged 18.9 points last season, could emerge as a potential NBA first-round pick, and senior swingman Quincy Brewer may be the team's essential player.

But, in a two-year run of various mishaps, Arizona State has lost the services of former top recruits Tommy Prince, Rico Harris, Lenny Holly and Ryan McDermott.

Who's left? Veal, Brewer and a trio of forwards--Rodger Farrington, Okeme Oziwo and Lamar Richardson--who all averaged single digits in scoring last season.

"Whether it's as a three-point shooting team or a full-court pressing team, I'd just like us to find one thing and do it right," Frieder said.

Six-foot freshman Eddie House, who averaged 27.6 points his senior season at Hayward High (Union City, Calif.), could get plenty of time with Veal and Brewer as the Sun Devils try to out-race the opposition.

CALIFORNIA

* 1995-96 records: 17-11, 11-7.

* Conference finish: Tied for fourth.

Forward Alfred Grigsby, who was recruited by Lou Campanelli, returns for his sixth season--he sat out two of them because of medical problems--at Berkeley, but practically nobody else is back.

In succession, Tremaine Fowlkes took off for Fresno State, Gardner for Pepperdine, Abdur-Rahim for the NBA and Bozeman for the unemployment line.

Into the coaching void steps 42-year-old Ben Braun, who led Eastern Michigan to an upset of Duke in the NCAA tournament last season, and into the scoring void jumps Ed Gray, a great three-point shooter.

But for the second consecutive season since Gardner flopped, Cal has a question mark at point guard. Will it be all-defense, no-offense Prentice McGruder or the more balanced Anwar McQueen?

OREGON

* 1995-96 records: 16-13, 9-9.

* Conference finish: Tied for fifth.

The Ducks have all five starters back from a team that won seven of its last 10 and narrowly missed an NIT berth. Leading the list is point guard Kenya Wilkins, who averaged 13.7 points and 5.9 assists last season.

Jamal Lawrence and Terik Brown combined to shoot 278 three-pointers last season. Brown, in particular, has been given the green light by fifth-year Coach Jerry Green.

"If it's leather, round and he's close to it, [Brown] can shoot it," Green said.

Senior Kyle Milling is the Ducks' best player on a front line bolstered by Rob Ramaker and the return of Henry Madden--a two-year starter before a knee injury forced him to sit out last season.

OREGON STATE

1995-96: 4-23, 2-16.

Conference finish: 10th.

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