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Douglas made right decision

Jeff Tully

Some might say that Ruben Douglas’ decision to leave the University of

Arizona basketball program is selfish. Others might call it foolish or

hasty.

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But when you take into consideration the former Bellarmine-Jefferson

High standout’s situation with the Wildcats’ program, Douglas’ choice to

switch schools is a wise one.

In his sophomore season with Arizona, the 6-foot-4, 192-pound Douglas

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decided last week to leave the school and Coach Lute Olson’s program. He

did so without playing in either of the Wildcats’ first two games --

exhibition contests.

The decision to leave one of the premier men’s college basketball

programs in the nation was likely not an easy one for Douglas. But the

young player has to be given a lot of credit for mustering enough

strength to see his choice through.

Douglas didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that he was

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not going to receive a fair shake at Arizona. Olson made that clear as

early as last season when Douglas was still a freshman.

Two times last year Douglas was reprimanded by Olson for disciplinary

reasons. And in both cases, Douglas was singled out in incidents where

other Wildcat players were just as much as fault as he was.

For some reason Douglas was held to a different standard than the

other Arizona players.

That unfair treatment from Olson continued this season when after just

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three practices, Douglas was relegated to the Wildcats’ “B” practice team

-- implying that he was not good enough for the top squad.

This treatment came in the wake of Olson praising Douglas for

improving his skills during the offseason last summer.

It was also strange that Olson has been so high on freshman guard

Gilbert Areans, even before the former Grant High standout had played his

first game with Arizona.

“He is the real deal,” Olson said of Areans two weeks ago at the

Pac-10 Media Day in Los Angeles.

Olson also mentioned that Areans would be battling Douglas for a

starting spot on this year’s team.

Areans’ battle would come against a player Olson called “The most

improved player on our team for the last month of the season last year.”

Along with a 8-point average last season, Douglas closed the 1998-99

campaign with a 16.5 average in Arizona’s final four games -- including a

17-point effort against California and a 19-point showing against USC.

Douglas was also an honorable mention All-Pac-10 Freshman Team last

season.

In a press release Sunday, Olson tried to put Douglas’ departure from

his Arizona scholarship in a positive light.

“We are disappointed to see Ruben leave our program, but he made a

decision that he felt was best for him,” Olson said in the release.

“We wish him well with his future plans and our staff will assist him

in any way possible with his future plans.”

Douglas wasn’t directly recruited by Olson, instead, he dealt mainly

with assistant Phil Johnson, who is now with the NBA’s Chicago Bulls.

You can’t fault Douglas for realizing that he was not Olson’s favorite

son and that he would likely have to fight -- more than just teammates --

for playing time.

And that’s all Douglas has ever wanted, just a chance to get his share

of playing time.

That time may have been hard to come by if Douglas would have stayed

in the valley of the sun. In a dumb move, Olson and his staff assembled a

team that was overflowing with talented guards.

Along with Douglas and Areans, the team also boasted some of the most

promising guards in the nation.

Freshman Jason Gardner is a former high school McDonald’s All-American

who has a very good shot of making it to the NBA some day.

Another player, Luke Recker, another former McDonald’s All-American,

also could have a future in the NBA. Recker, who transferred from Indiana

University, will be eligible to play next season.

Douglas simply realized there would not be enough playing time to

accommodate all of the team’s guards, and in the wake of his standing

with Olson, he would probably be the odd man out.

If Olson wasn’t that keen on Douglas, it appears to be just the

opposite with his Wildcat teammates.

One of those teammates -- sophomore forward Michael Wright -- had only

good things to day about Douglas during Pac-10 Media Day.

“Ruben is just a great guy,” said Wright, who used Douglas’ former

roommate. “He is a great guy to be around and he’s basically a good

person.”

*

If there is any doubt that Douglas is a prized prospect, that was

shattered in the days following his decision to leave the school.

Douglas’ former coach -- Eli Essa -- said he has been inundated with

calls and pages from universities interested in Douglas’ services.

Essa said he has been contacted from individuals from almost every

major basketball conference in the nation -- the Pac-10, the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big 10 Conference and the South Eastern Conference.

Among the programs are some the top-20 rated teams in the nation.

There is no doubt that Douglas has the skills to play at almost any

university he chooses. The only problem for him will be picking where --

and for whom -- he would like to play.

In the meantime, Douglas will finish up the semester at Arizona and

leave the school in December.

After that, he could possibly be practicing -- not playing -- for a

new program by next semester. Although he will lose eligibility for his

sophomore season, he will be back in action next year and have two good

seasons to showcase his talent.

Although he might receive some criticism for his hasty departure from

Arizona, Douglas can take solace in the fact that he has made a decision

that will benefit the only person who matters -- himself.

Jeff Tully is the sports editor of the Burbank Leader. he can be

reached at 843-8700.


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