LOS ANGELES – University of Arizona forward Chase Budinger averaged 15.6 points as a freshman last season, but coach Lute Olson wants him to exhibit more of a complete game.
"Defensively, Chase was a liability a year ago," Olson said Thursday at Pac-10 media day. "He's worked hard on the defensive end of the court during the offseason as well as adding a good deal of strength to his core so he can hold his ground better."
• Olson said center Kirk Walters is still paying the price for a severe bout of mononucleosis that limited him to two games last season.
"He's recovered from the mono," Olson said. "But he's not back to being as effective as he had been."
• Hoping to lessen the pressure on his knees, Jawann McClellan has lost 15 pounds and now weighs 205, Olson said.
• Speaking of losing weight, point guard Nic Wise – who will take some of Mustafa Shakur's minutes – has gone from 194 to 170 "to get his quickness back," Olson said.
• Olson isn't sure if Wise or touted freshman Jerryd Bayless will start at point guard but, either way, both will play a lot – and sometimes they'll be on the court together.
• Assistant coach Kevin O'Neill is one of the biggest additions to Arizona's program. O'Neill worked under Olson from 1986-89 before head coaching stints at Marquette, Tennessee and Northwestern. O'Neill was also an NBA assistant and head coach with the Toronto Raptors.
"He's an outstanding defensive coach," Olson said. "The reason I brought him back is because I was tired of holding the hammer all by myself. Now we both have the hammer."
• Olson, on the depth and talent of the conference: "It's far and away the best it's ever been from top to bottom. It's going to mean an exciting year for fans and media – and a lot of Rolaids for coaches."
The Sun Devils might be one of the more improved teams in the Pac-10 under second-year coach Herb Sendek. But that might not mean much when it comes to the standings. Sendek pointed out that Arizona State will play 14 games against schools ranked in the Top 25 – and that's just within the league.
"Right now the Pac-10 is comparable to the best years I had in the ACC," said Sendek, the former North Carolina State coach. "It's deep top to bottom, and the top teams are capable of winning a national championship."
• The Sun Devils return four starters, including forward Jeff Pendergraph, who averaged 12.1 points and 9.1 rebounds for a team that finished 8-22 and 2-16 in the conference.
"There are always several benchmarks to judge success," Sendek said. "Even with the lack of wins we were enormously successful on a number of fronts. I don't know that I've ever coached a group that improved more from the first day of the season to the last. As someone that was in the trenches with those guys, I couldn't help but feel good about what was happening."
• Among the new faces expected to see significant playing time this season are freshman guard James Harden and Duke transfer Eric Boateng, a 6-10, 245-pound forward.
"It's important for Eric to get back in the game," Sendek said. "He (rarely) played as a freshman at Duke, and last year he sat out (because of NCAA transfer rules). Eric has worked hard during that time to transform his body and he's worked hard to improve as a player.
"But there's nothing like a game, nothing like doing it when the lights are on. That's the next step for Eric, getting re-acclimated to playing in games. I know he's anxious to do that."
Golden Bears coach Ben Braun spent more time Thursday reciting an injury report than he did talking about the upcoming season. Point guard Jerome Randle is out for about a month after having a biopsy on his kidney earlier this week. That leaves sophomore Nikola Knezevic as the likely starter to open the season. The untested Knezevic missed last season with a knee injury.
Freshman Omondi Amoke continues to recover from surgery for a vascular abnormality in his calf. Forward Theo Robertson (hip surgery) probably won't be ready until conference play.
"It's a blow, but we're not going to get negative about it," Braun said of the injury situation. "No one is going to feel sorry for us because we've got guys out right now. We're going to have to count on some guys to step up and give us some minutes."
Braun said walk-ons David Liss and Nican Robinson – who spent a season in UCLA's program – might be called upon early. He's also excited about the return of Jordan Wilkes, who missed last season with a knee injury.
The job security of coach Jay John is in question following last season's 11-21 finish. John, though, is hoping the arrival of Kansas transfer C.J. Giles will jolt some life back into program.
The 6-11 Giles, who was kicked off of KU's team for a series of off-court incidents, becomes eligible Dec. 8. When everything is clicking, Giles is one of the country's premier shot blockers.
"He's a freak athlete," John said. "He instantly changes everything on the defensive end. Last year's team and the one before that … we weren't able to dictate tempo with our defense because we weren't athletic enough.
"But (Giles) is as good of an athlete as almost any guard, anywhere. And he has the 'it' factor as far as being a good rebounder. He's assertive and aggressive. He never scored well at Kansas but, for us, he'll get the ball a lot."
Giles averaged 6.2 points and 4.8 rebounds as a sophomore for KU in 2005-06.
• John said small forward Seth Tarver is the Beavers' most-improved player … Oregon State went through plenty of turnover during the offseason. Five players who had remaining eligibility are no longer with the team. "We replaced all five of those scholarships with better players," said John, who is 66-85 in five seasons in Corvallis.
The Ducks lost just one piece from last season's Elite Eight squad – but it was a good one. Guard Aaron Brooks averaged a team-high 17.7 points and had a knack for making big shots. The key this season will be finding someone to fill his role.
"We need to figure out who's going to be the guy that steps up and helps us win close ball games," coach Ernie Kent said. "We're deeper than last year. Hopefully that will help make up for what Brooksie gave us. We may go eight, nine or 10 deep."
• Kent said freshmen Drew Viney and Kamyron Brown are vying for significant playing time … Guard LeKendric Longmire, who redshirted last season, is expected to see a lot of minutes along with Canadian forward Frantz Dorsainvil. "It took us a year to even get him in the country," Kent said … Look for small forward Joevan Catron to join a starting lineup that includes returnees Malik Hairston, Maarty Leunen, Tajuan Porter and Bryce Taylor … Hairston has already earned his degree despite being at Oregon for only three years.
Standout Brook Lopez has rejoined the team and is hoping to make his sophomore season debut Dec. 19 against Santa Clara.
"It all depends on when grades are posted," Stanford coach Trent Johnson said.
The 7-foot Lopez, who is academically ineligible for the fall semester, was suspended by Johnson last month for missing practice and class.
"He had some maturity and accountability issues," Johnson said. "Hopefully those days are behind him."
Lopez averaged 12.6 points and six rebounds last season.
• Johnson said guard Landry Fields is the team's most improved player and forward Fred Washington is one of the most "underappreciated" players in the Pac-10.
"His game is ugly at times," Johnson said of Washington. "But he has the ability to do a lot of different things to help our basketball team."
Coach Ben Howland said his starting lineup will consist of Kevin Love, Josh Shipp, Darren Collison and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. But he's still not sure about the fifth guy.
Eventually, he said he'll choose between Lorenzo Mata, Alfred Aboya, Michael Roll and Russell Westbrook.
• According to Howland, plans are underway to renovate the hallowed Pauley Pavilion.
"The renovations would occur about two years from now," he said. "It's in the works and I'm confident it's going to happen. I'm excited about our building. It's probably the most historical college basketball facility in the country."
• UCLA was picked by the media to win its third consecutive conference title. Washington State was second followed by Oregon, Arizona, Stanford, USC, Cal, Washington, Arizona State and Oregon State.
Much like Cal, the Trojans are another team that enters the season with a dismal injury situation. Freshman Mamadou Diarra will soon undergo a hernia operation that will likely keep him out for at least six weeks. Davon Jefferson is far from 100 percent because of a strained knee ligament, a high ankle sprain is keeping Marcus Simmons off the court and point guard Daniel Hackett can't play because of a broken jaw.
"The good news," coach Tim Floyd said, "is that our walk-ons are getting better."
Even worse is that this is happening to a squad that lost 44 percent of its scoring when Lodrick Stewart graduated and Gabe Pruitt and Nick Young left for the NBA draft.
"We'll have to be very simplistic early on," Floyd said. "It'll look like we're playing street ball in November."
• The Trojans have what might be the country's toughest schedule. One particularly vigorous stretch has USC playing Oklahoma on Nov. 29 and Kansas on Dec. 2. Both games are in Los Angeles. After the KU game, the Trojans will fly to New York to play Memphis on Dec. 4.
"We're going to have to grow up fast," Floyd said. "We lost more from last year than anyone in the Pac-10, but hopefully we've gained more than anyone, too. These freshmen are on a higher level and are more prepared to play than any group of freshmen I've coached."
Coach Lorenzo Romar said guard Ryan Appleby is expected to miss about six weeks after fracturing the thumb on his shooting hand during practice earlier this week. Appleby started 24 games and averaged 10.5 points last season.
"Somehow," Romar said, "I think he could still make threes in a cast."
• The Huskies will surely feel the impact of losing Spencer Hawes to the NBA draft. Romar, though, is hoping his squad's experience helps make up for 14.9 points and 6.4 rebounds.
"Last year we were like a group of embryos going out there and trying to win basketball games," he said. "It's difficult to win on the road when you're a younger team. Hopefully we've matured beyond that stage."
• Painful as the loss of Hawes might be, Romar is excited about the return of junior Jon Brockman, who averaged 14.2 points and a team-high 9.6 rebounds last season.
"The good news is that he's back," Romar said. "The bad news is that, after this year, he'll be gone. You wish a guy like that could be with you for 10 years."
• The Huskies have taken a liking to Stanford transfer Tim Morris, a guard who has just one season of eligibility remaining.
"He's been through a Pac-10 schedule, so he knows what it takes to play at this level," Romar said. "He was voted as one of our team captains and he's never played for us. That tells you a little bit about what kind of person he is."
Coach Tony Bennett said he felt a little guilty that his team did so well just one season after he was hired to replace his father, Dick.
"I told him, 'I wish you would've had the experience of coaching this team,'" Tony said. "His response was: 'I've had my time. I enjoyed it better from where I was.'"
The current coach said his father tried to stay out of his way last season and has now moved to Wisconsin.
"He came to about three practices, stayed for about 15 minutes and was off," Tony said. "You couldn't get him away from the Golf Channel or the golf course. We still visited on the phone a lot and I bounced things off of him."
• Guard Nikola Koprivica is recovering nicely from the ACL tear he suffered midway through last season, the coach said.
"Occasionally he takes a day off," he said. "The good thing is that he's able to go full blast for long periods of time."
• Bennett said last season's 26-8 record has created a rare buzz about basketball in Pullman. He said there are limited seats remaining for the Cougars' home opener against Eastern Washington.
"When I first got here, to draw 2,000 people was something we'd get excited about," he said.